NFL players rightly face consequences if they choose to decline vaccine

The NFL shield logo is seen following a news conference held by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on February 1, 2017. (Tim Bradbury/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The NFL shield logo is seen following a news conference held by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on February 1, 2017. (Tim Bradbury/Getty Images/TNS)

Buffalo’s Cole Beasley and Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins are among the NFL players who want us to believe they are victims of the league’s COVID-19 policy. That is, of course, preposterous. What really upsets Beasley and Hopkins is the same thing that enrages all vaccine resistors with no rational reason for refusing: consequences and criticism for their decision.

That’s the genesis of Beasley’s belligerent rants against vaccines and the coronavirus policies that players agreed to with franchise owners. That’s why Hopkins tweeted that he’s questioning his NFL future after the league announced Thursday that teams could forfeit games -- and players their paychecks -- if unvaccinated players are responsible for outbreaks.

Beasley has faced withering criticism for his ignorant stance. Hopkins expressed uneasiness about peer pressure to get vaccinated. That’s too bad for them, but good for the NFL. This is one instance in which the league is doing better than wider society.

People whose views and behavior are contrary to the interests of public health should be made to feel uncomfortable. They deserve scrutiny. They should face consequences for their choices. That’s the only way to end the coronavirus nightmare as vaccination rates lag and the more-contagious delta variant spreads.

Too much collective time and energy has been wasted explaining things to people who’ve repeatedly demonstrated they have no desire to understand. Too much deference has been given to opinions that are detached from reality. We need more accountability, less accommodation for individual choices with social costs.

And for NFL players who decline the vaccine, those costs are relatively mild. They’ll keep their job. They’ll just work under more restrictions than those players who are vaccinated with potentially harsher penalties if they are responsible for outbreaks. That’s fair.

Those players with high-risk medical conditions had the choice to opt-out of the season by July 2 and receive a $350,000 stipend. Those without a medical justification would receive no pay if they opted out, unlike last season. That’s a reasonable change because now safe, effective vaccines are widely available.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith says he is confident players will make right choice for themselves on whether to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

My staunch support for labor rights extends to professional athletes. Workers deserve protections no matter the size of their salaries. It’s a national disgrace that callous, financially secure politicians prioritize business interests over lives by attempting to coerce people in high-risk jobs like food service back into the workplace.

That’s not what happened with NFL players. Unlike most workers, they collectively bargain for their conditions. The NFL Players’ Association gives them direct access to medical and public health experts who can address their concerns about COVID-19 and vaccines. It’s backward thinking for players like Beasley to believe the NFLPA is letting him down by creating a safer workplace just because he faces restrictions for his choice not to get the vaccine.

The NFL isn’t mandating vaccines. The NFLPA should never agree to that (it would probably backfire, anyway). Instead, the two sides set up a system of incentives and penalties to persuade players to get vaccinated and coax their employers to encourage it.

Vaccinated players will have no restrictions inside the workplace or away from it. Players who don’t get a vaccine will work under the same restrictions as the 2020 season. That includes daily testing, indoor mask mandates and no interaction with people from outside of the team on road trips. Unvaccinated players also must maintain physical distance from others inside team facilities.

Most players apparently are fine with the arrangement. They agreed to the policy, and NFL Network reported that more than 78 percent of players already have had at least one shot. Fourteen teams have at least 85 percent of their players vaccinated and at least half of players on all 32 teams are vaccinated, according to NFL Network.

Hopkins and Beasley are among a vocal minority of players who’ve expressed displeasure with the COVID-19 policies. Bills guard Jon Feliciano is another. He regurgitated some of the unhinged conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and vaccines that have been propagated by shameless far-right politicians and media figures.

Players are free to express their uninformed views. Everyone else is free to criticize them. That’s how it should work. Mockery is a way to compel unvaccinated players with ignorant opinions to get with the program. Some of that pressure is sure to come from their teammates.

Former Cowboys player Michael Irvin, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recently said Cowboys players who don’t get vaccinated aren’t serious about winning a championship. During a Wednesday interview with Dallas radio station 103.5 The Fan, Irvin said his views have nothing to do with politics.

Irvin: “I don’t care about the right wing. I don’t care about the left wing. I only care about a (championship) ring.”

I’m sure Irvin also cared about the money when he played. That’s another reason for players to get vaccinated. It’s in their best financial interest to do so.

The NFL completed the 16-game season in 2020 with no games canceled, but more than a dozen were postponed. Others were played with rosters depleted because of COVID-19 outbreaks. The more players and staff who are vaccinated this season, the less likely that will happen again. It’s that simple.

No experts have claimed that vaccinations offer 100% immunity from COVID-19. They are proved to decrease the chance of infection and serious illness. Dr. Anthony Fauci said it’s also probable that unvaccinated people are more likely to transmit the virus than vaccinated people.

It’s not clear if players were informed about the details of the team penalties the NFL announced Thursday. The reactions of some players to the memo made it seem as if they didn’t know they were coming. If so, that would be a major failure by their union. NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis declined to comment Friday on whether players were told that the team penalties announced Thursday were a possibility.

The league said that if a game is postponed because of an outbreak among unvaccinated players, their team will forfeit if it can’t be rescheduled during the 18-week season. That team also would be responsible for covering revenue lost from the canceled game and players from both teams wouldn’t receive a paycheck. The NFL said that, unlike last season, there won’t be an extra week available to reschedule games.

The NFLPA’s position is that players shouldn’t be surprised by the restrictions on unvaccinated players. They are the same guidelines players agreed to for the 2020 season. The difference now is that players can be free from those constraints by getting a vaccine, and teams will carry the burden of outbreaks among unvaccinated players (teams have the ability to trace the source).

The potential for team penalties creates even more incentive for players to get vaccinated. It prompted Hopkins to 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).”

It should make Hopkins question his decision to refuse the vaccine. Hopkins quickly deleted the tweet and later posted another in which he wrote that he planned to play nine more years. It seems the public backlash made him reconsider his position.

That’s good. No NFL player should have to be vaccinated if they don’t want to, but all should feel the pressure to do so. If they still choose not to get vaccinated, then they should accept the consequences of their choice.