Elks’ James Wilder Jr. admits ‘selfishness,’ encourages players to discuss vaccination with trusted doctor

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

Edmonton Elks’ running back James Wilder Jr. has changed his position regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and recently received his first dose as a result.

“The main reason why I wasn’t getting vaccinated was a little bit of selfishness,” said Wilder via videoconference. “I knew I was gonna be good but I have to worry about the others out there. There’s other people out there in all countries everywhere that’s going through it. It’s real. What’s going on is real. I just wanted to be a leader and try to get out, step out, speak on it where we can get the whole community doing the same thing.”

Wilder was unvaccinated during the 2021 CFL season and took to Twitter in October to claim that he’d received messages of support from players who felt forced to “hide their beliefs” because “we let politics into our sport.” He recently consulted with a medical professional regarding the vaccine and encourages other skeptics to do the same.

“I would say, ‘Talk to a trusted doctor.’ One of my head coaches, Hank Brown, in high school was a trusted doctor of mine and I got to talk to him. Instead of trying to do your own research, they kinda just break it down for you,” said Wilder.

“You’ll get all the facts that you need. Trusted or not, you should feel comfortable with what you’re doing, but the facts that I got back, I felt comfortable doing it and doing it with my family as well.”

Wilder and his wife have a large family he plans to bring with him to Edmonton before the 2022 season gets underway. He is looking forward to engaging with the community and the fans, which was something he missed last season due to the league’s restrictions for unvaccinated players.

“They’re putting me as one of the faces of the whole team, so I want to be able to get into the community and get with the fans and I can’t do that unvaxxed. I was going to get my whole family vaxxed, it’s a decision that I made, we’re going to all get up there and get up there early,” said Wilder.

Edmonton was the only team to experience a breakout of COVID-19 during the 2021 season, which forced the postponement of their game against Toronto in Week 4. Wilder denied that the team’s relatively low vaccination rate was a source of animosity behind closed doors, even if it was a common talking point in the media.

“We definitely were hearing it all the time, but the team was close. I don’t think it had anything to do much with messing up the team or anything like that. We had guys that were unvaxxed and we had very supportive teammates and nobody looked at us different,” said Wilder.

“Some guys stepped to you and was like, ‘Hey, I’ve had a family member really in the hospital for this, you should look into this,’ without pressure, just all love. It just shows the care and concern for the team and I think that’s the way locker rooms should be.”

The 29-year-old signed a contract extension with Edmonton on Monday ahead of the league’s free agent deadline set for Feb. 8. He recorded 142 carries for 770 yards and two touchdowns along with 28 receptions for 226 yards and one touchdown in 2021, his fourth season in the CFL.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.