The NFL’s pro-vax stance isn’t political, it’s strictly business

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/28/21

Let me go ahead and clear the air: I rarely defend the NFL.

I’ve criticized our country’s most popular — and profitable — professional sports league on several occasions.

I’ve opposed …

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The NFL’s pro-vax stance isn’t political, it’s strictly business

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Let me go ahead and clear the air: I rarely defend the NFL.

I’ve criticized our country’s most popular — and profitable — professional sports league on several occasions.

I’ve opposed the league’s tax-exempt status — which it voluntarily gave up in 2015 — despite being a multi-billion dollar business.

I’ve been outspoken about the shadiness of the league’s attempts to cover up the link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — and the lack of care it gives to former players affected by trauma-related brain injuries, of which many studies show football as a primary catalyst.

I’ve scoffed at the way the league blackballed Colin Kaepernick for standing up (or kneeling) for a cause he so passionately believes in.

But this time, things are different.

If you haven’t heard the loud voices of some of the league’s outraged players on social media, then let me catch you up to speed.

Last Thursday, the NFL sent out a memo regarding some of its COVID-19 guidelines for team officials and players for the upcoming 2021-22 season, among which it was stated that:

• There will be no “19th week” added to the schedule; if a game cannot be played or rescheduled within the 18-week season due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team responsible for the outbreak will forfeit the game, being credited with a loss in playoff seeding. Neither team’s players would be paid for the canceled game.

• If a game is canceled due to a COVID-19 spike resulting from a team’s unvaccinated players, that team will be subject to potential discipline from the league.

It’s since surfaced that unvaccinated players will also be fined $14,650 for any violation of COVID-19 protocols, such as not wearing a mask at the team facility — a luxury reserved only for fully vaccinated folks.

Most of these protocols are the same as they were during the 2020 season, but now, instead of them being a universal standard across all players, team staff and clubs, there’s a clear distinction between the fully vaxxed and the un-vaxxed.

And, as shown above, unvaccinated players could potentially cost teammates and opponents their game checks, which could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for some players. That shouldn’t be taken lightly.

When the news of the memo broke, many players took to social media to voice their opinion.

Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins — one of the most revered receivers in the league — was perhaps the most surprising, writing in a since-deleted tweet: “Never thought I would say this, But being in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @nfl.”

He then followed that tweet up with another: “Freedom?”

Quincy Avery, a well-known quarterbacks coach, tweeted the following: “Def a bad teammate if you don’t get the vax now…” to which Jalen Ramsey, an All-Pro cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams, wrote in response, “I know 2 people right now who got the vaccine but are covid positive.. (shrug emoji) I’m just saying. I wouldn’t look at a teammate as bad if he don’t get the vax, no pressure from #5 (Ramsey’s number).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running back Leonard Fournette, who helped lead the team to a Super Bowl LV victory last season, said simply in a since-deleted tweet: ”Vaccine I can’t do it…….”

And in what was likely the most popcorn-worthy thread, two Buffalo Bills teammates — defensive end Jerry Hughes, a pro-vax player, and wide receiver Cole Beasley, a player who has become a noteworthy voice in the anti-vax community — argued back and forth about the vaccine.

The thread started, however, with a tweet from former NFL cornerback Darius Butler, which reads: “The @NFL is dead ass wrong w/ that new memo they sent out to teams today. What’s new tho?! Basically forcing these needles into players arms at this point. Every player/personnel should have an ACTUAL ‘choice’ in the matter. They are sending a CLEAR message today.”

This, finally, brings me to one of the biggest issues I have with those that oppose the NFL’s policies: They aren’t forcing you to do anything.

The NFL isn’t requiring that players get vaccinated.

Individual teams aren’t requiring that players get vaccinated.

The league is simply stating that if you choose to remain unvaccinated, there may be consequences if you break protocol or start/contribute to an outbreak in your locker room, which could lead to a game’s postponement/cancellation and could result in lost revenue for both players and owners.

As I mentioned earlier, the NFL is a multi-billion dollar organization. Last season, its revenue dropped from $16 billion in 2019 to $12 billion in 2020, a loss that came primarily from a lack of fan attendance.

The NFL isn’t being political here — as strange, and ridiculous, as it is for me to have to call vaccinations political — it’s being a business.

These policies are purely a business move, something the NFL is no stranger to.

And, despite the fact that it’s tough to support owners hoarding money from their players, it makes sense.

If a game has to be canceled due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players, that’s money the NFL and the teams are losing from not having ticket/concessions/merchandise sales, as well as money from advertisers and other various sources.

So, the most logical option — as crappy as it sounds — is to take game checks away from the players since the game was never actually played. That, at the very least, negates most of the cost of an unplayed contest.

The more players that get vaccinated, the less any of them will have to worry about an outbreak derailing their season or costing them a good chunk of their monthly earnings.

While it may seem like a ton of players oppose the vaccine, the league made it a point to emphasize that 80% of players have at least one dose of the vaccine, with nine teams having rates above 90%.

Unvaccinated players are the vocal minority.

And if Hopkins wants to retire — he later tweeted that he still has nine more years left in him, so I doubt it — or Beasley or Fournette want to hold out or sit this season on the sideline to avoid following protocol, then so be it.

Their vaccinated teammates — who have a much smaller chance of losing paychecks without them there — might thank them.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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