Millionaire athletes’ refusals to be vaccinated a bunch of jab-berwocky

The National Hockey League must take a hard stance against players who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19. They're in the business of making money. And a global pandemic, as we've seen over the past 17 months and counting, is bad for the bottom line.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2021 (413 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The National Hockey League must take a hard stance against players who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19. They’re in the business of making money. And a global pandemic, as we’ve seen over the past 17 months and counting, is bad for the bottom line.

Spare me the slippery slope argument. I don’t care how hard you can shoot a piece of vulcanized rubber or how fast you can glide across a frozen pond on steel strapped to your feet. Just as you or I have the choice to accept and follow the terms of our employment or face consequences, the same should apply to multi-millionaire athletes.

Given everything we now know, there is not a single plausible reason, outside of a medical exemption, which should prevent anyone from getting the jab. That’s not just my informed opinion, folks. That’s science. And not the kind you find in social media memes and conspiracy theory posts, but in actual labs from actual experts.

According to the NHL, more than 85 per cent of all players are now vaccinated.

Fortunately, the vast majority have bought in. According to the NHL, more than 85 per cent of all players are now vaccinated. That’s in line with other pro sports leagues including the NFL, NBA and MLB, and above the general public rate here in both Canada and the United States.

But what to do about those who still stubbornly refuse, putting themselves and everyone around them at risk? As the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the bunch. With the 2021-22 season around the corner, one which will include a full return to normal divisional alignment, 82-game schedule and cross-border travel to play games in sold-out rinks, there is little room for error.

The NHL cannot afford have a repeat of last season, when multiple team-wide outbreaks caused dozens of games to be re-scheduled. Which is why, effective immediately, they must adopt an approach that basically boils down to this: You’re either with us, or you’re against us.

Fortunately, that appears to be the way we’re heading. Players have been warned by their union that the rules of the game are likely about to change when it comes to dealing with COVID-19. Just as we’ve seen here in Manitoba with the public lottery initiative — unfortunately, my name was not called on Tuesday — the league is hoping money will ultimately be a motivator.

The NHL cannot afford have a repeat of last season, when multiple team-wide outbreaks caused dozens of games to be re-scheduled.

Test positive while on the road with your team? Enjoy your two-week hotel quarantine while your teammates carry on without you, one that you’ll be responsible for paying for. But you’re going to have to do it out of a previous paycheque, since the funds will stop flowing into your bank account for as long as you’re on the shelf.

Furthermore, it’s possible the unvaccinated on American teams may get left behind — even if completely healthy — for games in Canada, given the current border regulations that only allow for the required 14-days of self-isolation to be waived for those who are immunized. And no, they won’t get paid for those ones either. Same goes for any players on Canadian-based clubs who face similar issues coming back from a U.S. trip.

This would bring an end to the so-called “special interest” exemptions that allowed the Montreal Canadiens to go to Las Vegas and Tampa Bay during the Stanley Cup playoffs without issue, and for the Golden Knights and Lightning to cross into Canada. They may have been necessary given the state of the world at the time, but there is no reason they shouldn’t now have to follow the same protocols as everyone given an ample supply of vaccines and more than enough time during the off-season to take action.

Paul Vernon / The Associated Press files Chicago captain Jonathan Toews missed the entire 2021 season as a likely "long-hauler,"

To be clear, nothing is set in stone just yet, and talks are continuing between the NHL and NHLPA with just over a month left until training camps open in 32 North American markets. But I hope the league and its owners stick to their guns.

I’d like to see them take it a step further and make vaccines mandatory in order to hit the ice this fall. The Western Hockey League did that on Monday, following similar announcements earlier this summer from the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Just as the NHL now requires players to wear helmets and face shields for their own good, why should this issue be any different? If anything, this is a much bigger safety issue. A blow to the head or high-stick to the face only hurts the affected player. A COVID-19 infection has the potential to do more widespread damage

If players who feel they’re already invincible need further convincing, perhaps they should brush up on the story of Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the entire 2021 season as a likely “long-hauler,” with lingering symptoms from a February 2020 infection including fatigue, shortness of breath, congestion, bloating and a struggle just to get out of bed some days. Or Minnesota’s Marco Rossi, the ninth-overall pick in the 2020 draft who got COVID-19 in November 2020 and has only recently resumed skating after a lengthy fight that had his life in peril at one point.

Peter Power / The Associated Press files Marco Rossi, the ninth-overall pick in the 2020 draft who got COVID-19 in November 2020, has only recently resumed skating after a lengthy fight that had his life in peril at one point.

We often hear that hockey is the ultimate team game, one in which players routinely sacrifice their body for the greater good. In this case, nobody is asking them to step in front of a 100 mph slapper, or even play through a sprained ankle, separated shoulder or broken ribs. The only request is that they roll up their sleeves and take a couple shots, the way more than 23 million Canadians and 168 million Americans have done so far.

Don’t like it? Be prepared to pay a heavy price. Better yet, maybe polish up the resume and find another line of work.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

 

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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