‘There’s some very passionate conversations’: Bombers’ Mike O’Shea deals with player vaccinations individually

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Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea deals with each players’ vaccination status individually.

According to O’Shea, 99 percent of the team’s tier-one personnel are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“I don’t know that I ever took a hard line stance in terms of conversation, I did more listening I think, I hope I did, and, in the end, it’s always about the individual player,” O’Shea said.

“With vaccinations you have to deal with each person individually. You have the broad statement saying here is what the science suggests, here is what the protocols are, here is what might come down the pipe as we go along.”

As per the three-down league’s COVID policy: if a team can prove that 85 percent of its players under contract have been vaccinated, at least once and preferably fully, the athletes will receive their salary for a cancelled game. If a franchise falls below the 85 percent threshold, the entire team will not receive its salary.

“You’re dealing with humans and there’s some very passionate conversations in the office. I’m not talking about hammering players that you have to do this, you’re listening to the players, you get a sense of where they’re coming from,” O’Shea said.

The CFL decided that players who can’t travel with their teams to the East and West Division Finals or Grey Cup because of the federal vaccine travel mandate will not be allowed to play. Those individuals will be placed on the suspended list and not paid, which is exactly what happened with offensive lineman Asotui Eli for the 108th championship game. 

“When a player is not able to play for whatever reason, what comes to my mind is the person, what they’re feeling and the turmoil that they’re going through,” O’Shea said. “He wasn’t able to travel.”

The University of Hawai’i product was a fourth round pick in the 2019 CFL Draft and spent most of his rookie season on the practice roster, dressing for five games. Eli earned a full-time role on the active roster, starting four games at right guard during the 2021 regular season.