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Nick Rolovich, head football coach of the Washington State Cougars, has been fired after refusing to comply with Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
A head coach and program riding a three-game win streak would normally be celebrating, but for Washington State University (WSU), it is proving a hollow victory. Athletic Director Pat Chun said, “The noncompliance with this requirement renders [Rolovich] ineligible to be employed at Washington State University and therefore can no longer fulfill the duties as a head coach of our football program effective immediately.”
He continued, “It is disheartening to be here today. Our football team is hurting. Our WSU community is fractured. Today will have a lasting impact on the young men on our team and the remaining coaches and staff.”
Not only was Rolovich fired, but four assistant coaches were as well. Chun was unable to change the head coach’s mind, saying, “He was resolute in his stance.”
On Saturday, Rolovich said, “I’m gonna come to work tomorrow. … I don’t think this is in my hands. So I’ve been settled for a long time on it, and I just believe it’s going to work out the right way.”
He added, “[It’s been] about three months, four months,” Rolovich said. “So I’ve gotten used to it. These kids are incredible. Love being around them. They’re playing their hearts out for this university. I think they’ve got a real good bond that they’ll remember for the rest of their life. And it’s just pretty special.”
A two-person committee examined Rolovich’s request for a religious exemption without knowledge of whose application they were reviewing. The coach was required to prove a sincerely held religious belief in order to refuse the vaccine and still keep his job.
WSU President Kirk Schulz said, “There was a lot of frustration with such a prominent employee choosing to be unvaccinated.” He added that nearly 90 percent of employees and 97 percent of students have been vaccinated.
Players took a different view of the situation. Quarterback Jayden de Laura told a sideline reporter, “Stop hating on Rolo. We love him.” Wide receiver Travell Harris said that Rolovich was a player’s coach and added, “He’s a coach we all love to play for.”
Schulz said that fewer than 50 WSU employees had sought a religious exemption, but clearly none of these coaches received one. This raises the question of how hard is it to successfully prove to this committee that you have a sincerely held religious conviction opposing the vaccine? It also raises the objection: What about herd immunity? If nearly 90 percent of employees and 97 percent of students are vaccinated, why is it necessary for Rolovich and his assistant coaches to be vaccinated? He’s been there all this time coaching and mentoring these athletes, but suddenly now he’s a danger?
Worse, these male student-athletes are being denied access to a trusted male role model in Rolovich, who they clearly love and respect, as well as being cut off from assistant coaches they have also bonded with, simply because these men did not want to put a vaccine into their body with potential risks. In Rolovich’s case, we know that he refused for religious reasons and filed for an exemption as is his right under both the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Who are these state university officials to decide that his religious beliefs are not sincere and deny him his God-given right to freely practice his religion and obey his conscience?