Washington State Football Coach Fired Over Vaccine Refusal

Nick Rolovich's request for a waiver based on unspecified religious objections was denied.

WaPo (“Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich fired after failing to comply with vaccine mandate”):

In perhaps the most striking case to date of a public employee being terminated because of a coronavirus vaccine mandate, Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich was dismissed Monday, the school announced, after not adhering to a statewide order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) in August. He was the state’s highest-paid employee at $3.2 million per year, and he had remained unvaccinated up to the state’s vaccination deadline of Monday.

“Nick is not eligible to be employed at Washington State University, through noncompliance,” Athletic Director Pat Chun summarized Monday night.

Four assistants — Ricky Logo (defensive tackles), John Richardson (assistant head coach/cornerbacks), Craig Stutzmann (co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks) and Mark Weber (offensive line) — also lost their jobs, the school said. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will serve as acting head coach as Washington State prepares to welcome BYU on Saturday.

[…]

A committee had been slated to review his request for a religious exemption, a request he had kept silent until a mentor, retired coach June Jones, revealed it in an interview with USA Today this month. The outcome of Rolovich’s request was uncertain; even if the committee had cleared him for the exemption, he would have faced more arduous mandate hurdles, including the need to demonstrate he worked in a job without extensive up-close human interaction.

“While much has been made of the relatively small number of university employees who are not complying with the governor’s mandate, we are immensely gratified that nearly 90 percent of WSU employees and 97 percent of our students are now vaccinated,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said in Monday’s announcement. “… I am proud of all those members of our community who have set the example and taken the steps to protect not just themselves, but their fellow Cougs.”

[…]

“People had a choice, and they had months to make that choice,” Schulz said. “This wasn’t something that just all of a sudden popped up.” He said that at a university with a medical school and a bent for science, he had listened to “a lot of frustration with such a prominent employee refusing to be vaccinated,” and he said of the various science departments on campus, “That particular group has been pretty strident.” He noted that Washington State had been the first Washington school with its own vaccine mandate, including one for students set in April. He said “certainly less than 50” of all Washington State employees had made choices similar to those of Rolovich and his coaches “out of an employee base of 10,000.”

Rolovich, 42, was in one of the most coveted jobs in his profession, a prominent Power 5 program. He was making $3 million a year. That he chose to throw that all away over a vaccine that nearly four billion people have already gotten simply baffles me.

While I object to the very idea of religious exemptions for vaccine mandates, on the notion that personal beliefs can’t be allowed to override legitimate public health concerns, I understand that our traditions in this regard are complicated. But it’s noteworthy that no significant religious denomination opposes this vaccine. One further presumes that Rolovich is otherwise compliant with the state’s mandates for non-COVID vaccines. So, refusal on religious grounds simply makes no sense.

FILED UNDER: Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Crusty Dem says:

    “I get to do and say what I want without any consequences” and “Having to do the slightest thing is oppression/communism/Nazi America” is the basis of intellectual conservative thinking right now.

    There is no legitimate reason to avoid this vaccine – there isn’t a religious reason, there isn’t a medical reason, there isn’t a rational reason. Absurdly, this makes it a perfect “conservative purity test”. Risking your life to “own the libs” is now a thing. It won’t kill that many younger conservatives, but it will kill their older friends and families… We are Idiocracy.

    18
  2. CSK says:

    The football coach makes 3.2 million a year, and the governor makes $171,898 a year. Is it me, or is there something wrong with this picture?

    23
  3. Scott says:

    I’ve stopped caring about people like this for a long time. It is not about health care freedom. It is about entitlement. This coach is more than a football coach. He is a leader in that community. He failed to lead. Now he is gone. Good. There are a lot of replacements out there.

    The religious exemption business is going to get a lot worse. The phrase “sincerely held religious belief” is finding its way into laws. Laws have to be enforced and adjudicated. How is this done without incredible definition and parsing? It can’t.

    9
  4. Tony W says:

    As a liberal from Washington State, and as a graduate of WSU, I feel totally owned by this.

    14
  5. Tony W says:

    @CSK: I’ve told this story here before, but as a WSU graduate I get alumni e-mails. At one point a few years back they needed both a university president and a head coach for the football team.

    I received numerous updates on the status of the head football coach, including a big announcement when he was hired.

    As far as I know, they might be still looking for a university president, never heard a word on that one.

    9
  6. MarkedMan says:

    This sudden rush to get “religious” exemptions just shows how phony these clowns faith was.

    9
  7. KM says:

    So, refusal on religious grounds simply makes no sense.

    Because “religion” has been watered down by conservatives to mean “random personal fee-fees and thoughts”.

    Even the Founders listed official protection of belief within an established organized system, not whatever fleeting furfural fluttered through one’s head at the moment. Using religious objections to legal skirt rules *only* works because socially we’re supposed to blindly accept “you can’t know what’s in someone’s heart” or “judge them for their beliefs” but that’s absolute bull. It’s only extremely recently that this concept has been abused to allow nuts to do as they please; before it was a much bigger burden to get a religious exemption and there was much more social pressure to not abuse it. Then fundies realized they could use it to discriminate – keep women from the pill, gays from being served and minorities held at bay using what “God wants”. Now that fundies, cons and loons have gotten away with using it circumvent the law, it’s become the go-to excuse for “I don’t wanna and you can’t make me”. It doesn’t have to make sense or conform with any sect’s dogma. Cons have created the perfect nonsensical blanket excuse and now society is seeing just how dangerous the concept really is.

    10
  8. Kathy says:

    A religion that commands you risk your life and that of your family and other people, is just not worth following.

    5
  9. CSK says:

    @Tony W:
    The current president of WSU is Kirk Schulz, who’s paid $625,000 per year.

    Oh, and Schulz took a voluntary pay cut this year of 10 percent. Probably the coach needed some additional perks.

    I bet Schulz is fully vaxxed.

    9
  10. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I have an atheist relative working as a nurse who applied for – and got! – a religion exemption from being vaxxed. She was never shy about stating her disdain for faith in general to anyone and is well known at work for not being religious. When the edict came down to get vaxxed or be fired, she initially insisted she’d rather be fired but then decided to abuse the system with this exemption. One could *easily* disprove her claim simply by going through her social media feed to see her bragging about skirting the rules and her brazen misuse of the concept but no one at her work will care. She applied and was approved simply because she asked for it and they “don’t judge”. She’s extremely proud she managed to blatantly scam the system, get what she wanted and not be held accountable for lying or being a plague rat. No consequences for her
    (Well, she’s livid the rest of the family is shunning her – the actual religious members who got vaxxed are *pissed* at her mockery of their faith).

    COVID vaccine religious objections have NEVER been about belief in any way, shape or form. It’s all about “don’t tell me what to do!!!” and taking advantage of the wide-open loophole cons have rammed into existence. They’re cynical AF and daring the rest of us to call them on their scam.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @KM:

    COVID vaccine religious objections have NEVER been about belief in any way, shape or form. It’s all about “don’t tell me what to do!!!” and taking advantage of the wide-open loophole cons have rammed into existence. They’re cynical AF and daring the rest of us to call them on their scam.

    No comment, just thought it was worth repeating.

    5
  12. Kathy says:

    On better vaccine news, approval is expected to mix different vaccines in the US as booster shots.

    I got fully vaccinated with Pfizer. If I go to the US for a booster early next year, I think I’ll opt for Moderna.

  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    Rolovich probably figured, being a legend in his own mind, that he was too important to fire. He figured wrong, good for the state of Washington for enforcing their policy. Now let the lawsuits begin over payment of his contract.

    4
  14. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Well, since I got the murdered baby vaccine (J&J) first off, it’s good to know I can either repeat that or get one of the DNA-altering/microchip-implanting/magnetizing vaccines this time around! Choices, choices.

    5
  15. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    The data currently available indicates a better antibody level response with an mRNA booster to the J&J shot.

  16. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Better still. I can probably stroll across the street for that.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I wonder if he’d have been fired if he had Nick Saban’s record.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA… gasp …. wheeze…

    No I don’t.

    4
  18. CSK says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Just out of curiosity, I looked up Saban’s pay. It comes to over 8 million a year.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @Scott: @KM: The problem is that the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause are essentially contradictory. If we can’t unreasonably burden the practice of religion but also can’t privilege some religious belief systems over others, it gets extremely squishy.

    @CSK: That “football coaches are the highest paid public employee” in just about every state is a canard that really should die. They receive only a tiny fraction of their pay from the state treasury. The vast majority comes from athletic funds. Like it or not, College sports is a multi-billion dollar business and schools compete for the best coaches.

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  20. Jay L Gischer says:

    I guessing that there won’t be many other state employees in Washington who defy the vax order. Good for Inslee.

    Of course, I’m a Husky, not a Cougar, so it’s really no skin off my nose.

    3
  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: If it helps any, I’ve thought so for about 25 or 30 years. In fact, I signed an initiative a few decades back that proposed that no state employee should have a contract that pays more than the salary earned by the governor. (But, in fact, if the governor only makes $171k and change, the principal at Kelso High School makes more–by almost $30k.)

    1
  22. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Actually he was fired for being a dumb-fuq, when you get right down to it.
    Let’s call a spade, a spade.
    These anti-vaxxers are dumb as rocks.
    End of story.

    4
  23. de stijl says:

    @CSK:

    Yo! I really like my new Magneto powers. I can manipulate metal with my mind now.

    1
  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: If that ever comes (and makes a difference where I live) , I’ll decide by what clinical trials indicate will be the best option with the vaccine I took. But I didn’t take J&J the first round (and am not criticizing anyone who did), so it’s probably less important in my case anyway.

    I’m glad to see that my skepticism of how “religious exemptions” were going to be examined turned out to be wrong in at least one high-profile case. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, Nick.

  25. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    And how about that built-in 5G???? I can be my own cell phone!

    2
  26. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:
    The leaks I’ve seen suggest that mix-and-match boosters will be allowed, but only for high-risk patients and if the original vaccine type is unavailable in a timely fashion. AIUI, the mix-and-match data that was submitted was all based on antibody titers, and did not include anything about actual decreased infection rates.

    A friend of mine who thought this week was a convenient time to risk losing a couple of days to side effects waltzed into her local pharmacy expecting to get an on-demand Pfizer booster for her J&J original vaccination. She was shocked when the pharmacist said he wouldn’t risk his license on a combination that wasn’t under even an EUA and turned her away.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: The State of Washington may well have been a pioneer in not using state funds to pay coaches. Even back in the Jim Owens era (57-74), Owens salary level from the university itself was “full-time lecturer” scale rather than even “associate professor.”

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: (But, in fact, if the governor only makes $171k and change, the principal at Kelso High School makes more–by almost $30k.)

    That’s OK, the principal at Kelso High School doesn’t work for the state.

    3
  29. Gustopher says:

    I hope he gets covid and dies. It would be the perfect ending to that story.

    I’m sure it would be a personal tragedy, and objectively a person shouldn’t have to pay with their life for being duped by an internet hoax, but it really would complete his story perfectly, and I think that outweighs any cruelty.

    2
  30. JKB says:

    But it’s noteworthy that no significant religious denomination opposes this vaccine.

    SCOTUS has already ruled that religious conviction is not dependent upon that conviction being supported by the old, white men, or even POC women, who control the major religious denominations. It’s a nice obscurant talking point, as are many of the arguments made by Democrats and the Democrat-adjacent, but has no basis in constitutional law.

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Did somebody fart?

    4
  32. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:
    So if I adhere to the teachings of the Satanic Temple and claim a religious exemption to draconian abortion laws, like the one in Texas, then you would support that without question?

    6
  33. Scott says:

    @JKB: @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Like I said. This will lead to chaos.

  34. flat earth luddite says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I guessing that there won’t be many other state employees in Washington who defy the vax order.

    Unfortunately from a public safety perspective, the staunchly anti-facters include 125 Washington State Patrol troopers who’ve refused the vaccine and have been fired. Am I being an a**hole for hoping that they also lose their public safety accred’s (so they can’t be LEO elsewhere)? Why yes, I am that kind of Luddite, thanks for asking!

    10
  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    From the long-term perspective as an atheist I love what right-wing nut-jobs are doing to religion. Yes! Jesus wants you to refuse to be vaccinated and spread disease like a biblical leper. Yes! Jesus is just another MAGAt. Yes! Your faith is whatever you make up on the spot. Yes! Evangelical Christianity is just a branch of the Trump Cult.

    They’re making their ‘faith’ trivial, silly, dishonest and openly self-harming. Keep it going! Forget that wimpy Jew with all his love and charity crap, Christians have a new god – he’s nasty and cruel, a bully and pathological liar with the world’s worst comb-over. Yes! I love it when the wolves finally take off their sheep’s clothing and show the world what they really are.

    8
  36. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    In reality, many RW’s that are faux religious, here quotes from the Bible attributed to Jesus and they dismiss them as socialist claptrap. It’s all performative.

    2
  37. flat earth luddite says:

    Unfortunately, Dr. J, not all educational venues are being supported in sanity. As reported in this morning’s Find Law:

    The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that the First Amendment rights of student-athletes at Western Michigan University were “likely violated” by the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements

    Now, where did I put my “head-thumping-on-my-desk” emoji?

    2
  38. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Only for a state-funded agency with statutory limitations on the amount of funding that the locality can add, but yes, definitions are everything.

  39. gVOR08 says:

    @flat earth luddite: In the case of WA state troopers, I see the denominator is 2200. So 125 out of 2200 is actually a much higher quit/fired percentage than I’ve seen elsewhere, but still single digit.

    As others have observed, it’s hard to identify the cops who don’t want to prortect the public and get rid of them. If they want to volunteer, great.

    7
  40. JohnMcC says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’d gotten full to the brim with that kind of ‘Jesus as a Real Man ™’ bullshit. Something about it stirred a memory after a while and…

    Well, just go to youtube and search for Elmer Gantry Jesus Quarterback Speech.

    They’re plowing old fields.

  41. dazedandconfused says:

    With great paycheck comes great ego. He didn’t think they would dare fire him.

    Unfortunately for him Wazoo has spent a lot of effort making themselves into an R1 research institute (the highest level) and has a scientist as president, and seeks to be the ultimate Moo U. Animal husbandry which involves a lot of research into vaccination. Rolovich’s stand (if one can call it that…he simply refused to answer any questions on the matter) tickled a very big dragon in an inappropriate place.

    3