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Las Vegas Raiders Fans Are Split On The Vaccine Requirement To Attend Games

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A small but growing number of professional sports teams are requiring people to get vaccinated before they attend home games, including the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders. But as the Mountain West News Bureau's Nate Hegyi reports, diehard fans are split on the move.

NATE HEGYI, BYLINE: Autumn in Las Vegas means lots of sun, lots of tourists and, on Sunday, tens of thousands of football fans.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Raiders.

HEGYI: They include Isabel Gonzalez. She's wearing a black and white Raiders jersey and is from Long Beach, Calif.

ISABEL GONZALEZ: I'm going to be able to scream and sweat without having to have a mask over my face.

HEGYI: That's because she's fully vaccinated, and so is almost everyone else in the stadium. The Raiders are requiring all attendees 12 years and older to show proof of vaccination if they want to attend home games.

DAN VENTRELLE: To be frank, we did it because we thought it was the right thing to do.

HEGYI: That's Raiders team president Dan Ventrelle. His team has taken one of the toughest stances on COVID-19 in the league. Elsewhere, it's different. In Seattle and New Orleans, fans can just show a negative COVID test. But in Las Vegas, fans have to be at least partially vaccinated to get in, and only fully vaccinated people don't have to wear a mask. Ventrelle says the goal was to keep the stadium at full capacity and to keep fans safe.

VENTRELLE: To make sure that you didn't have to worry about your health or the person sitting next to you or have any concern about whether the building was a safe environment.

HEGYI: The move was a gamble when it was first announced in August, and the Raiders gave season ticket holders a choice - get vaccinated, get a refund or roll their tickets over to next year. About 700 people refused a vaccine. But since then others have filled their place. The indoor stadium seats about 62,000 people. It's sold out for the first home game and is mostly full for this one. One of the fans is Julie Carr. She is fully vaccinated and loves the mandate.

JULIE CARR: I think it's just a smart thing to do.

HEGYI: Carr is a nurse in nearby Pahrump, Nev., and takes COVID-19 seriously.

CARR: Raider fans are diehard fans just like in any other sports thing, and they're going to do what they have to do in order to come.

HEGYI: That's a gamble the Raiders are betting on, too. If unvaccinated fans show up today and want in, they have to get a shot first. Outside the stadium, there's a big white tent where medical workers offer the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Some aren't too happy about it.

TIA FACKRELL: I am against it. I think it's wrong.

HEGYI: Tia Fackrell just got her first jab, and she's watching a long line of other unvaccinated fans filtering in.

FACKRELL: I think we all look like a bunch of cattle being herded in here to be branded.

HEGYI: With that said, she also didn't want to give up her tickets. That seems to be the prevailing mood here - unvaccinated football fans begrudgingly getting their first shot, people like Danielle Hall.

DANIELLE HALL: I don't think it's right.

HEGYI: Do you think you'll get your second shot?

HALL: No, I know I'm not.

HEGYI: Just the first one to get into the game.

HALL: That's it. That's all they going to get from me (laughter).

HEGYI: This shows one of the holes in the Raiders' mandate. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a second shot, and there's no follow-up if a fan like Hall doesn't attend another game. The team is allowing partially vaccinated fans inside the stadium so long as they wear a mask as well as a yellow bracelet, like the one on the wrist of James Hansen.

JAMES HANSEN: I think this is called the band of shame. You haven't gotten them all yet, so you get to walk around with this.

HEGYI: This is actually Hansen's second dose of the vaccine. He got his first shot back in March but broke out in a rash afterwards. It scared him. But then this summer, he saw that younger, unvaccinated people were getting sick and even dying from the delta variant. And that scared him even more. The Raiders requirement was the push he needed.

HANSEN: Due to the fact that my buddy gave me a ticket to the Raiders game and I thought to myself, I can just get this shot and get it over with.

HEGYI: About 600 people have received a shot here since the Raiders began their regular season. And despite some grumbling, fans are filling the stadium, and their sound is deafening. For NPR News, I'm Nate Hegyi in Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.