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Unvaccinated athletes put us all at risk

by MARCUS HAYES THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER | June 10, 2021 at 2:20 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA -- World No. 3 golfer Jon Rahm lost $1.674 million last weekend because he tested positive for covid-19. He led by 6 strokes with 18 holes to play, and his second consecutive Memorial Tournament championship was in the bag, but PGA Tour protocols required him to withdraw. Rahm, by all evidence, was unvaccinated. Justice was served.

This justice should serve every sport.

If athletes refuse to be vaccinated, and if they then test positive, they then should forfeit any money they would earn during their mandatory isolation. They also should lose prorated bonus money, since bonuses act as de facto salaries. If they won't sit for a shot in the arm, kick 'em in the wallet.

This would resonate loudly in the Phillies clubhouse, which is one of eight Major League clubhouses still laboring under the onerous mid-pandemic protocols. That's because less than 85% of their Tier 1 personnel -- players, coaches, and essential staff -- has been fully vaccinated. It ain't over, fellas.

According to, 2,653 Americans died of covid-19 last week. That included two of my former schoolmates. People such as Jon Rahm are, at least, partially responsible for that. So are people such as the Phillies players and/or staff (they won't tell us the breakdown) who won't get vaccinated.

Rahm isn't alone. Almost 50% of Tour players aren't vaccinated, according to Tour officials. However, it will be interesting to see if, in light of Rahm's misfortune, that number drops before the U.S. Open starts next Thursday. Rahm was exposed the previous weekend and was not fully vaccinated when he was exposed, if he was vaccinated at all -- he was tested after exposure, which only happens with unvaccinated players.

It is unconscionable.

People such as Rahm and the MLB knuckleheads just don't care that they risk the health of others as much as they care about themselves, their inconveniences and their ignorance. Life's a lot easier when it's led without conscience.

The killing irony: When the Braves visit this week, the Phillies and Penn Medicine will provide free vaccines to all fans -- and two free tickets, and a free hot dog and soda, and a giveaway item. The Phillies are literally paying fans to get the shot.

And, as it turns out, they're also paying players to not get it.

If an important player contracts covid-19, then that player's absence hurts everyone. These athletes' choice to ride the coronavirus bareback is not popular with their peers or their handlers. The owners, coaches, vaccinated teammates, and the support staff want every single player to get the vaccine. Quarantined players can't help you win. Everybody makes more money when you win.

Yes, MLB already can suspend and forfeit salary of players who violate protocols, but players can contract the virus without violating protocols. They go home every night to friends and family members who spend their days subject to no protocols whatsoever.

And yes, you can contract the virus even if you've been vaccinated; the general efficacy of the three approved vaccines in the U.S. ranges between 74% and 95%. It doesn't make you bulletproof, but it does give you a bulletproof vest that covers most of you. Better, the vaccines turn lead bullets into rubber, since vaccination means only mild covid-19 cases.

So why haven't the leagues simply made vaccination mandatory? After all, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week said that employers can mandate vaccinations for employees, and that mandate might extend to unionized employees such as pro U.S. athletes. In reality, any mandate assuredly would be contested by the unions. Worse, a mandate would compel non-vaxxers to dig in their heels. It's not as if they're acting rationally to begin with.

For better or worse, athletes are role models. Vaccine hesitancy crosses all demographics; Black, white, rich, poor, everything around and in between. Unfortunately, that includes the demographic of Professional Athlete -- many of whom, unsurprisingly, don't care enough about their fellow man, much less their teammates, to spend 2 minutes of their privileged lives to save lives less privileged than theirs.

Wish Jon Rahm a speedy return and no ill health, but waste no other sympathy on him. He's made nearly $26 million, and he's only 26, and he's going to make at least $26 million more, so the $1.674 million he torched last weekend hardly will be missed.

Pity, instead, Rahm's caddie, Adam Hayes. He lost $167,400 -- the traditional 10% cut of the winner's purse.

Pity, too, Rahm's young family. Rahm and his wife had a son in April.

Covid-19 carriers can't get near newborns.


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