As the sports industry looks set to bounce back, Jordan Hunter looks at the fight over the jab.
As any true fan, I was checking the news the other week looking at the injury updates and the latest with my beloved Green Bay Packers when I got an alert: star QB (quarterback) Aaron Rodgers out with covid. At this point, I’ve almost normalised a player or two being out every so often, but figured “hey with protocols we should have him back in no time”, that was until it was revealed he was unvaccinated. Which in the NFL means a 10 day minimum. I didn’t think much of it other than a huge blow like an ankle injury or something along those lines, but then Aaron Rodgers opened his mouth. I won't belabour what he said, but the long and short of it was that he was insincere and divisive about the subject. He seemingly tried to play both sides of the vaccine argument in order to get people to deflect the attention away from him. But for me it raised a lot of interesting questions.
First off, why? Why choose not to get vaccinated? The answer seemingly is pretty mundane and what we’ve heard from everyone. In Rodgers case it was that he believed he would have an allergic reaction to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. We’ve heard people say they have had bad reactions to vaccines and fear they might have another one with any covid jab so it’s not out of the ordinary. Most of the excuses are the same ones we’ve always heard, “I want it more studied”, “I heard this one causes blood clots”, etc. While I think there is some argument over the fact athletes are fine tuned and worry about what they put in their body, for the most part that’s not what we’ve been hearing. It’s mostly been the same reasons we give.
Which then brought me to the idea of medical privacy. Rodgers seemingly tried to hide his vaccination status, but many athletes have gone forward saying that it’s not the public’s right to know. While in most professions that is certainly the case, sports is different. An athlete's health status is analysed extensively with pundits speculating, doctors on youtube explaining what athletes injuries look like, and casual fans monitoring it daily. The health and recovery of an athlete are million pound questions for team owners, bettors, and fans. While it might not matter if an accountant has a torn ACL, everyone wants to know if their top line striker does.
This gets more complicated with the logistical nightmare that is sports. Athletes in many top sports travel internationally for competition and while most sports in Europe have lucked out in getting a quarantine exemption, that is not the case everywhere. In the NHL for example, players have been cut for not getting vaccinated because there is no exemption in Canada for unvaccinated players; so a league which travels across the US-Canada border presents an unworkable obstacle for unvaccinated players. Additionally, while vaccinated players might be more easily brought back to the field, there is still a massive liability in having unvaccinated players, who are more susceptible to catching and spreading covid, be able to spread the virus around the team even in milder cases. An unvaccinated player could wipe out an entire starting line for a game, or worse yet, spread it to an opposing team knocking two teams out of competition.
Athletes might raise all the same arguments against vaccination as many regular people do, but they often have to deal with things that most people do not regularly do. Vaccination is a choice, but playing sports is also a choice. To play at the top level often means having your medical details public and having to deal with logistical situations and athletes sign up for that. While we have not seen leagues mandate vaccines, it may become a reality. However, it really depends on who are the ones not getting vaccinated. Rodgers for instance probably can live safely knowing his job isn’t on the line for not being vaccinated because of his value to the team, but that’s probably not the case for everyone on his team who could be traded away. Or in the case of the Premier League, which lags behind the national average in vaccination rates, which would see large holes if unvaccinated players weren’t able to play. Regardless, vaccination now lays a difficult dynamic for the industry as they try to balance safety, the market, and players in a completely new environment.
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