Some people call me Terry Pierce. Others call me TP. But I am most known around my community as Coach Terry, as I coach both youth football and basketball in Contra Costa. I believe in empowering young people and coaching sports at the local level is one of the ways I think we can invest in our future generations.
As the fall season ramps up for local youth programs and professional leagues, I can’t help but think about how COVID-19 and vaccines impact how we experience our favorite pastimes and activities. This pandemic already disrupted our sports routines – from the NBA moving to a microbubble, to watching empty stadiums during the Olympics, and local sports coming to a full stop. The pandemic robbed us of even small traditions, like watching Sunday Night Football with friends and family or bringing the community together to cheer on our favorite high school teams.
Still, when the vaccines for COVID-19 came around, I was hesitant, like many African American men my age who grew up hearing about and experiencing medical racism. And as an older Black man who was first diagnosed with lupus at 16, I was nervous to get the vaccine, even though it was recommended for those with autoimmune and inflammatory rheumatic diseases.
However, it became very clear that the vaccine was a necessity when I started to see Black men my age, including some of my childhood friends and neighbors, falling victims to COVID-19. I decided then and there that when the last-second buzzer goes out in my life, it wasn’t going to be because of the virus.
I got vaccinated, and after grieving for my friends that left us too soon, I decided that no one in my community should have to lose their loved ones to the disease or fall victim themselves. Since then, I have been on a mission to educate my community so that we can collectively get vaccinated and protect us all against COVID-19 and its variants.
African American men are amongst the lowest in vaccination rates in California, yet the highest in suffering side effects from COVID-19 infections. Part of the low vaccination rate is due to a history of medical distrust, but there are also current health inequities that feed into vaccine hesitancy amongst our communities. Nevertheless, I know that the vaccine is the best tool we have to end this pandemic and to get back to doing the things we love to do.
I am talking to my neighbors. I am handing out flyers. I even told a friend that if he isn’t vaccinated, he can’t get a ride in my car! In my time talking to people about the COVID-19 vaccine, I noticed that it can take multiple conversations with a loved one (and maybe even the use of a little tough love) to motivate those who are hesitant.
Recently, my friend Greg was talking to me about how he was skeptical about receiving the vaccine. So I simply told Greg, “if you don’t get it, you don’t get to watch football with me at my infamous backyard Sunday watch parties.” Though it sounds a little harsh, and Greg was certainly taken aback, it came from a place of care and concern – the same tough love I bring to the court and field when I coach my teams.
Because for me, getting vaccinated comes down to this: once we’re all protected, we can get back to doing the things we love without fear or apprehension. There is too much life to live, games to see, and young people to coach, and we can only go back to these simple pleasures when we’re all vaccinated.
And it turns out, a little tough love did just the trick. Greg got vaccinated the next day, and now we’ll be able to watch NFL football on Sundays.
Terry Pierce is a former youth basketball and football coach and now serves as a community liaison in Contra Costa County
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