Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson knows the history and understands the resistance. The former Cowboys linebacker also watches the news from his Boca Raton, Fla., home and sees African-Americans dying at alarming rates to COVID-19.
Henderson, 67, has gotten his two Pfizer vaccine shots, driving an hour to a hospital in Miami to get vaccinated.
His message is clear, not so much the African-American community, but everyone: “I didn’t take the vaccine for me,” he said Wednesday morning. “I took it for you.”
Henderson said two former teammates, Roger Staubach and Ed “Too Tall” Jones informed him they got the vaccine. Henderson’s good friend and former Miami Dolphins teammate, Nat Moore, also received the vaccine.
For Henderson and others of his age, just listening to the doctors speak on the coronavirus is more important than anything else. He doesn’t want people to believe in the “nonsense” about the vaccines.
“Us over 65, we’ve been vaccinated our whole lives starting with when we were five or six years old,” said Henderson, who still bears a scar of getting vaccinated so he could go to elementary school in the 1950s. “So that’s not a good excuse.”
In 1932, the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama started a treatment program for syphilis in African-American men. According to the CDC the experiment was conducted without the consent of the men involved. The lack of treatment for syphilis carried on for years resulting in hundreds of deaths. The CDC reports the program was to last six months but continued 40 years.
In 1973, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the study participants and their families. A $10 million out-of-court settlement was reached with the government in addition to lifetime medical and burial services.
The effects of this program is the genesis of a generation of American-Americans distrustful of vaccines administered by the government.
Henderson wants to move on from the fear.
“When I look up to this (over 400,000 people) died I’m not thinking about the Tuskegee experiment,” he said. “I’m talking about right now. I’m talking about my life and your life and like now. I’m wearing my mask today. I’m not wearing my mask for me. I’m wearing it for you.”
Henderson said he’s left his Florida home once in the last year, to visit his brother in Austin. That day, Henderson left on Halloween with goggles, purchased at Home Depot, mask and gloves. It was a short trip to check on his Austin home and family.
Henderson’s son-in-law, grandson and nephew have contracted the virus. His grandson contracted it playing in a high school basketball game. His nephew currently is in the hospital. This virus, like it’s done to many has hit close to home.
According to Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, 449,663 people have died from COVID-19 with 26.5 million infected. California has the most cases at 3.3 million with Texas at 2.4 million.
The COVID Tracking Project in collaboration with Boston University reports African-Americans are 1.5 times more to get the virus than white people.
Underlying health issues and a lack of proper health care are some of the reasons.
That’s why getting vaccinated is so important.
During a video conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Allen Sills, the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, touted vaccinations. The NFL wants to show they support the efforts to curb the virus through vaccinations.
Now whether players, coaches and team executives get vaccinations is uncertain.
“Those are all active conversations that we’ll continue to have together with the players association and their medical advisers,” Sills said. “Let’s make no mistake about it, both us and the player’s association medical leadership believe very strongly in vaccinations. We believe it’s safe. We believe it’s effective. We believe it’s imperative as a way out of this pandemic. So we’ll continue to have those conversations and work very closely together.”
The NFL, despite numerous measures, moved games and had players and coaches test positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday afternoon, days from Super Bowl LV, ESPN reported the Kansas City Chiefs barber tested positive for COVID-19. The barber was cutting backup center Daniel Kilgore’s hair when test results were revealed.
“This was an unusual year,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communication, public affairs and policy. “This is one we’re not looking to replicate, let’s be straight about that. We’re hoping next year, we can return to normal. But in the meanwhile we did what I think was responsible. We found the best experts whether they be inside the government or outside of the government and relied on them to help us through this season.”
There is just one game remaining in the NFL season but for men like Henderson, the game of living continues.
“I’ve been 37 years clean and sober,” Henderson said. “I ain’t going out like this.”
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