We don’t say this very often.
Good for the NFL.
Good for pro football for being the first North American sports league to put into writing what ought to be obvious and logical by now, a decision that, in essence, comes down to two talking points:
1. You are free to make your own choice about getting vaccinated.
2. You are no longer free from the consequences of making that choice.
The NFL actually went there, dropping an “F-bomb” far more significant than the one that, in whole or in part, made up two-sevenths of George Carlin’s old “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” bit, a word that terrifies sports leagues because its implementation is always the culmination of something bad, the ultimate worst-case scenario.
There were two items from the NFL’s memo released Thursday that seem almost certain to be game-changers, one way or another, for this upcoming season, which will cover 18 weeks and 17 games per club and feature 272 regular-season games — all of which the NFL expects to play. Or else …
Or else a team compromised by infections of unvaccinated players risks losing that game — and all the revenue and playoff implications intertwined with it — by being forced to forfeit.
And by the way? No players on either team involved in a forfeit will get paid for that week.
So good luck to the Cole Beasleys of the world. The Bills receiver, a few months ago, earned an extra 15 minutes of fame with some loud don’t-tread-on-me declarations that not only wouldn’t he take the vaccine for COVID-19, but also he’d be willing to walk away from football if forced to do so.
Good luck to DeAndre Hopkins, wide receiver for the Cardinals, who in a since-deleted tweet Thursday said: “Never thought I would say this, but being put 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.”
We can save the arguments about whether citizens are entitled to the right to refuse a vaccine for our friends on the Op-Ed page. So let’s just remind Beasley, Hopkins and a bunch of other NFL players who popped off Thursday about a couple of indisputable facts as they pertain to football:
1. Every one of them played high school football. And the only way any American teenager is allowed to play high school football is to show proof of a baseline series of routine vaccinations — mumps, measles, small pox, etc. That’s non-negotiable. No proof of shots, no Friday night lights (or Saturday afternoon sun) for you.
2. The NFL also mandates that players — for their own benefit, and also for the sake of the game — wear helmets, and face masks, and shoulder pads, and other assorted protections against the traumas common to a violent game. There has never once been a challenge to these rules because the men who play the game may be stubborn, but generally aren’t stupid.
Somehow the NFL made it through its entire schedule last year without losing even one game, and that felt like a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God miracle, frankly — especially when you look at how ravaged college football was. But there was no vaccination then. All the NFL could do was roll the dice, collect the swabs and hope. It worked.
But there is no longer a need for this Hail Mary play. Vaccines are available. They are easy to get. They are free. And if they have been shown to not be 100 percent resistant to the virus, it is becoming abundantly clear that, at worst, they minimize COVID-19’s impact.
Baseball is struggling right now with the fact seven teams — including the Mets — haven’t reached the 85 percent threshold to reduce restrictions on the road. The Phillies and Yankees just completed a series in which one team (the Yankees) is in fact above that 85 number, but has been plagued by breakthroughs, while the other is reportedly well below. Philly has lost players. There is a real fear that the next time it could be worse.
And then what?
In the NFL, we now know what. We also know that while all 32 teams have vaccination rates above 50 percent, 18 of them are below 85 percent. That is a concern, especially with these new rules on the books. The NFL was right to attach forfeits to these regulations — “forfeit” is the dirtiest word in competitive sports.
It was righter to potentially dip into the players’ wallets. Money talks. We know what walks. The NFL just made it more likely that it will, instead, run, hopefully to the nearest available clinic.