In the theoretical search for our best selves, we humans came upon a deadly virus and tripped and fell into a trap of ignorance that occasionally descends into lunacy. A bear trap, apparently, as there seems no way to escape.
As this scourge of fear and cruelty rages through all elements of global society, it naturally visits sports. COVID-19 has killed roughly 640,000 in the United States and 4.5 million people worldwide, and as the sports industry grapples with it we’re discovering logic does not always prevail.
What needs to be understood, and ought to be easily digested by those placing a priority on winning, is that tighter protocols and higher vaccination rates matter. The tired saying -- “the most valuable ability is availability” -- rings louder than ever.
May the most vaccinated team win.
Players and coaches often vow to do whatever it takes to help the team. We’re now discovering that, for some of them, this is untrue.
See, for example, Ron Rivera, cancer survivor and head coach of the NFL’s Washington Football Team. His medical journey has rendered him immune-deficient and, therefore, at high risk of contracting potentially deadly COVID symptoms.
When some of his players still were unwilling to take one of the vaccines, he was perplexed.
“It is everybody's choice, everybody's decision, but you just hope they all fall in line and understand what's at stake,” he told reporters a few weeks ago. “I'm truly frustrated. I'm beyond frustrated.”
It’s not necessarily that they want to harm Rivera. It’s more that their principles matter more than the well-being of the coach and anyone else in their orbit.
The WFT has since reached a 90-percent vaccination rate, just below the NFL’s 93-percent rate as recently reported by the New York Times.
Sports are ahead of society at large, according to The Times. It’s trying to lead. At the top is the WNBA, with a 99-percent vaccination rate. MLS is at 95 percent, the NBA at 90 percent, with MLB and the NHL around 85 percent.
The Warriors won’t announce vaccination rates among their personnel, but those not vaccinated will need specific authorization before they can enter Chase Center for games, practices or other team activities.
They have been visibly pro-vax. As a business operating in San Francisco, the Warriors are bound to the rules and policies of the city. They announced last week that, with few exceptions, fans attending games at Chase Center must show proof of vaccination.
We’ve reached the point where major employers, such as Kaiser Permanente and Delta Air Lines, are announcing vaccine mandates and, as a way to enforce the policy, are prepared to terminate those who don’t comply.
We’ve reached the point in sports where precautions in the face of a pandemic improve the chances of success. It’s not complicated.
Yet anti-vax resistance continues.
Though MLB is urging an 85-percent vaccination threshold, at least two teams, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, went a step further, mandating vaccinations for all full-time employees.
This reportedly conflicts with the principles of Bob Boone, VP and senior advisor to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. Boone is a former big-league catcher. His son, Aaron, is manager of the New York Yankees and, because he has a heart condition, is fully vaccinated. Bob, however, has opted to resign rather than follow company policy.
Who wants to tell him about the Boston Red Sox? One of a few teams well below the 85-percent vaccination threshold, they have eight players out after testing positive. It’s reasonable to believe this is a factor in Boston’s postseason hopes hovering above the trash bin.
The San Francisco Giants, wading through thick brush in hopes of winning the NL West, were hit with a couple of COVID-related absences. Infielder Donovan Solano and starting pitcher Alex Wood are out after testing positive.
Without them, the team is diminished.
Meanwhile, give it up for the NFL for applying pressure, coming only a few words short of making vaccinations mandatory. Our No. 1 sport is taking punitive measures to keep itself upright. The flow of dollars is at stake.
For a team devoted to success, and realizing the importance of health during a pandemic, it’s fair to consider the vaccination principles of a player or coach – just as fair as considering their willingness to study video or read the playbook.
After centuries of advances in modern medicine, with dozens of diseases neutralized or eradicated, a vocal and strident minority continues to insist their personal “freedom” is more important than wellness and the greater good of humanity.
Some of them play sports, and supposedly are part of something bigger than themselves.
Make it make sense.