The sorry spectacle Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich forced upon his team and the school must bring consequences. Rolovich’s arrogance in declaring he will go unvaccinated for unelaborated “personal” reasons disregards the safety of the Pullman community and is a stunning display of bad leadership.
WSU President Kirk Schulz needs to break his public silence and take significant punitive action. Schulz showed strong leadership in April when he made WSU the state’s first public university to require vaccination of everyone on campus — students, faculty and staff — for the fall semester.
Even though that necessary policy allowed workers to file for medical, religious or other exemptions, Rolovich nevertheless should be held to a higher standard. He is WSU’s highest-paid employee, the head of a team with more than 100 players and staff members and a public figure of outsize influence in the state. Just 41% of residents over age 12 in the university’s Whitman County home has initiated vaccination, according to the state Department of Health. Rolovich ought to be leveraging his community standing to help improve that number, as other college football coaches have.
Tuesday’s Pac-12 football media event flaunted another example of Rolovich’s failed leadership on this issue. In Los Angeles, while coaches of all 11 of the conference’s other schools gamely fielded questions in person from a room full of reporters, Rolovich was relegated to a Zoom hookup because of his outlier status.
This absurd display, by itself, reflected poorly on the Cougars’ image. But, worse, WSU players Max Borghi and Jahad Woods, questioned Tuesday by the same reporters, awkwardly had to express support for the coach’s bad choice. Rolovich controls the team and every player on it. He put them in an impossible position.
Schulz should step in before the situation gets worse. This problem extends beyond likely poorer coaching if Rolovich needs to physically distance himself from his players into the fall. The PAC-12 is publicly weighing what to do if a COVID-19 outbreak makes a football game impossible; the National Football League has already announced that pandemic-scrubbed games will become forfeits. Rolovich going defiantly unvaccinated even as the Delta variant surges increases the risk that hardworking players might have to forfeit games and Pullman could lose the economic boon of Cougars home games.
WSU’s midseason team outbreak last year already canceled the 2020 Apple Cup game with its cross-state rival.
Now that vaccines are freely available to help curtail the spread, Rolovich owes it to the 75% of his players who have gotten at least one vaccine shot to join them. If he continues to refuse, Schulz should suspend or fire the coach, or WSU’s trustees must step in to demand accountability.