November 29, 2021

The refusal of some pro athletes to get vaccinated is difficult to fathom – The Boston Globe

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But now that there’s proof the vaccines work — they’re not foolproof but they reduce symptoms and damage from the virus — we are still dealing with people who refuse to get vaccinated, and it’s become a disturbing issue in the sports world.

The Red Sox are one of the seven major league teams not 85 percent vaccinated, perhaps one of the reasons why they are plagued with a COVID-19 outbreak that has sidelined 11 players and staff members in the middle of a push for a playoff spot.

Former Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, as an unvaccinated player, had to be away from the team for five days after he was flagged for confusion about daily testing. Did that absence cost him his job? Coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t say definitively, but missing three days of practice while your competition gets the first-team reps certainly didn’t help Newton’s cause.

Now Newton is looking for work, and likely still unvaccinated.

Newton also missed time in his tumultuous first season with New England after contracting COVID-19. And yet he did not get vaccinated afterward, for whatever reason. From personal experience, when you get COVID-19, the first thing you do is to ensure you don’t catch it again. Masks are cool and all, but you seek more backup than that.

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Did the fact that Cam Newton was reportedly not vaccinated play a role in his release?
Did the fact that Cam Newton was reportedly not vaccinated play a role in his release?Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

Various athletes have floated medical, political, and religious reasons for why they are not vaccinated. And at the beginning, the concern was understandable, especially in the Black community.

Besides an obscure 1997 HBO film called “Miss Evers’ Boys,” there has been little mainstream media coverage of the Tuskegee Experiment, a 40-year study by the US Public Health Service that used poor Southern Black men as essentially guinea pigs for syphilis research, in an attempt to see the effects of the disease untreated.

With the promise of free medical care, burial insurance, and means, 600 men participated in the experiment, being told only that they were being treated for “bad blood.” Of the 600 men, 128 eventually died of syphilis or complications, and none were told about or given penicillin, which was determined in 1943 to cure the disease.

In 1997, 25 years after the final study was stopped following a news leak, President Clinton issued a formal apology to the victims from the United States government.

Considering this horrific injustice, mistrust about the COVID-19 vaccine at the beginning was understandable. But six months later, after millions of vaccinations for all races of people, with no proof of widespread adverse physical effects, it’s bewildering.

It’s also astounding that athletes would rather walk around their locker rooms unvaccinated, fully vulnerable to a virus that has killed more than 600,000 people in the US, and with the possibility of spreading it to teammates, because of some uninformed anti-vaccine philosophy.

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The NFL and its Players Association have made it harder for unvaccinated players to get on the field if there are testing or contact-tracing glitches, hence the five-day exile for Newton. The league also said it will not extend the season to make up any games canceled because of unvaccinated players. And Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer blurted out this week that the club considered vaccination status in making roster decisions.

In other words, if your vaccination status messes with the team’s bottom line of winning, then you’ll have plenty of time to quarantine on the waiver wire. Yep, it’s a personal choice, but one that could be detrimental to your career.

The NBA and MLB are offering incentives and encouragement to vaccinated players. Vaccinated NBA players reportedly will not be tested regularly during the season. These players also will have road freedoms such as clearance to venture outside hotels for meals and other social activities. All you have to do is get vaccinated.

MLB Network announced that John Smoltz will be working remotely because of his refusal to be vaccinated, per company policy
MLB Network announced that John Smoltz will be working remotely because of his refusal to be vaccinated, per company policyJohn Amis

MLB Network announced that former pitchers John Smoltz and Al Leiter will be offering their analysis remotely because of their refusal to be vaccinated per company policy.

This is reaching absurdity. This is the biggest epidemic since the Spanish flu 100 years ago. It is still not completely under control, despite how many maskless people you see walking the streets or attending ballgames. This isn’t over.

It appears that some are staying unvaccinated simply because of the impression that it is being mandated. It’s their bizarre way of fighting the system. But as we have seen, COVID-19 doesn’t care about race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or even age. It’s deadly, something not to be messed with, and these citizens — including athletes — continue to push their luck for some senseless campaign against Big Brother.

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If these professional sports leagues, all of which consistently consult with medical experts, are strongly advising vaccination, it may be time to focus your attention on another healthy and positive way to promote your “beliefs” and get vaccinated.


Gary Washburn can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.