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Opinion: Some teams have had enough of players who refuse to be vaccinated

·5 min read
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Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Bertuzzi are the latest athletes to discover there is a price to be paid for their so-called convictions.

The Golden State Warriors forward and the Detroit Red Wings winger stand to lose significant chunks of their salaries because of their continued refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine. To say nothing of their previous good standings with teammates, fans and the front-office folks who make decisions about their careers.

“It’s an important issue for us. It’s a team-first issue,” John Davidson, president of hockey operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets, said earlier this week after announcing forward Zac Rinaldo was not invited to training camp because he wasn’t vaccinated.

“We win as a team. We lose as a team,” Davidson added.

And therein lies the reality players who remain stubbornly unvaccinated are up against.

The public has grown weary of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 680,000 Americans and stretched both our hospital ICUs and medical professionals beyond their limits. Vaccines are widely accepted to be the best way we have out of this, bolstered by common-sense health measures such as social distancing and wearing masks in crowded areas.

Andrew Wiggins could be forced to miss home games in San Francisco if he does not get vaccinated.
Andrew Wiggins could be forced to miss home games in San Francisco if he does not get vaccinated.

But the pandemic is dragging on because too many Americans still refuse to be vaccinated, and the rest of us have run out of patience. Sports teams are no different.

Professional leagues might not be mandating vaccines because it must be collectively bargained, but they are making life markedly harsher for holdouts. They have to test daily and wear masks in team facilities. They aren’t allowed in team dining rooms and can’t visit with family and friends on the road. They have to quarantine if they’re deemed a close contact, and will be docked pay if they miss games.

And as the NHL nears a 100 percent vaccination rate, teams are even dropping players, saying they present too big a risk.

“As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 (pandemic), we have to do what we have to do,” Davidson said. “I’m proud of our group and I’m proud that they recognize how important it is for us to protect ourselves and others.”

Players can scream all they want about “freedom.” But when one player's “choice” undermines the rest of the team, he's not being a team player.

The NHL has seven teams based in Canada, the NBA one. Given that Canada requires a 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated people, you can see the problem this presents.

MARK MEDINA: How Andrew Wiggins’ refusal to receive vaccine compromises Warriors' season

PAYING A PRICE: Detroit Red Wings' Tyler Bertuzzi calls refusing COVID-19 vaccine 'a life choice'

Missing nine games in Canada will cost Bertuzzi more than $400,000, but how many points will his absence cost the Red Wings? His teammates say they’re supportive now, but if those games are the difference between a playoff spot and going home after the regular season, I imagine they’ll be far less charitable.

The scenario for Wiggins and the Warriors could be even more dire.

Beginning Oct. 13, local restrictions will require Wiggins and the rest of the team to be vaccinated or they will not be allowed to enter the Chase Center, the Warriors’ arena. A similar scenario exists in New York, affecting both the Knicks and the Nets.

Tyler Bertuzzi is the only unvaccinated Detroit Red Wings player going into training camp and faces the potential of missing all of his team's games in Canada this season.
Tyler Bertuzzi is the only unvaccinated Detroit Red Wings player going into training camp and faces the potential of missing all of his team's games in Canada this season.

This means Wiggins would miss 41 games if he’s not granted a religious exemption, which is no sure thing. No doubt his teammates will be thrilled at the prospect of their playoff chances depending on a part-time player.

Hesitancy or skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccines was, if not acceptable, at least understandable in the early going.

The shots had been developed more quickly than any other vaccine in history, leading some to believe, incorrectly, that corners had been cut. The technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, though decades old, was new to most of the public. There is a long, ugly history of Black and brown people being neglected and mistreated by both the medical profession and the U.S. government.

But it’s been almost 10 months since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in the United States. Six months since they became widely available. Four months since they were approved for children ages 12 to 17.

The millions of people who have been vaccinated already, most of whom had little if any side effects, are a testament to the safety of the shots. That the people getting seriously ill and dying are almost exclusively unvaccinated is a testament to their effectiveness.

Besides, unless they were home schooled until they entered their respective professional league, almost all these unvaccinated players have already been vaccinated dozens of times.

The time for excuses, and whatever patience there once might have been for them, is over.

“Every day I see a new excuse why people ain’t getting the vaccine. Ya starting to get creative with these `reasons’ though and it’s actually really funny,” Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, whose mother died of COVID-19 in April 2020, said on Twitter last week.

Pressed Thursday about his decision not to get vaccinated, Bertuzzi called it a “personal choice, freedom of choice and life choice.” No. A personal choice is one that only affects you. We have any number of laws that place the protection of the collective good above individual freedoms. Try exercising your “freedom” to drive 100 mph in a school zone, and see how well that goes for you.

And as ER doctors will tell you, given the number of unvaccinated patients they’ve watched die, it is the vaccine that is the life choice.

The NFL, NBA and NHL all have more than 90 percent of their players vaccinated, far better than the general population. And as the holdouts dwindle, their commitment to “freedom” will increasingly be seen for what it actually is:

Selfishness.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Bertuzzi: Not getting COVID-19 vaccine selfish