Politics

Scott Stinson: Aaron Rodgers and his selfish decision to remain unvaccinated in team-first NFL

In the NFL context, every player who gets vaccinated has given his team a better chance to win. Every player who doesn’t, does the opposite

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After the Pittsburgh Steelers traded linebacker Melvin Ingram this week, head coach Mike Tomlin said he wanted “volunteers, as opposed to hostages” on his team.

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It was a not-particularly-subtle dig at Ingram’s complaint about a lack of playing time. Even though the Steelers had signed Ingram just this past offseason, and even though Pittsburgh’s defence is reminding no one of the Steel Curtain, Ingram was shipped out for not being enough of a team player.

None of this was at all surprising. Professional sports are fairly nuts for the importance of sacrificing individual goals for the benefit of the team. Players will routinely be benched, traded or cut if coaches or management detect them straying from a team-first mentality. Pat Riley, the Miami Heat president and former NBA coach, even came up with a name for the problem, as he saw it, of athletes who put personal goals ahead of team goals: The Disease of Me. It’s a religion that all coaches preach.

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Which is why the case of Aaron Rodgers, and other vaccine holdouts, is so baffling. The Green Bay Packers quarterback tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and was immediately ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, which was evidence that he has not been vaccinated. The Packers have not confirmed this fact, which was reported by the NFL Network, but Rodgers’ absence is all the conformation that is required: Had he been vaccinated, it’s possible he could have returned to the team after a couple of negative COVID tests.

Leaving aside the ethical morass that was Rodgers’ decision to suggest he was vaccinated with his “Yeah, I was immunized” response to a question about it at training camp, and his even more shady willingness to ignore rules for the unvaccinated like compulsory mask-wearing at press conferences, if there is a more clear-cut example of a player putting his individual desires over the collective good of the team, I cannot think of it. The Packers have won seven games in a row to reach 7-1 in the season, good enough for a tie for first overall in the NFC and giving them a decent chance for the best record in the conference and a possible playoff bye. There is a lot of season left, but few teams would benefit more from that top playoff seed than the Packers: would they rather face Tampa, Arizona or Los Angeles in a title game at freezing Lambeau Field or in those warm-weather cities? But because Rodgers declined to be vaccinated, he will miss at least one game, and possibly more, depending on his health. His team will instead start the untested Jordan Love at quarterback. They’ve signed Blake Bortles, which is not a thing a football team should ever have to do. And the Packers just … let this happen. This, in a sport where players are routinely patched up and sent back out on the field of play, at considerable personal risk to their own health, because it gives the team the best chance to win. Green Bay’s situation with Rodgers was, admittedly, tricky in the off-season because he wanted out and they didn’t want to give him any more reason to be unhappy, but still they allowed themselves to be walked right into a scenario where the league MVP will miss significant time — and could have serious health complications — because they couldn’t convince him to take a medical treatment that billions of people across the world have willingly taken, to stunningly good effect.

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A moment here on that last bit: The vaccines work. This is rather like saying that water is wet, but because the water-is-not-wet crowd is still out there, it is worth belabouring the point for a spell. No, vaccines do not reduce the risk of infection to zero, and yes, it is still possible for the vaccinated to test positive, but they absolutely do reduce the risk of infection and, crucially, they sharply reduce the chance of severe COVID-related illness. How anyone can believe otherwise when there is dramatic real-world evidence of vaccines having flattened COVID curves in country after country that have administered them widely remains a depressing mystery. Go ahead and believe this is all a Bill Gates-led plot if you want, but honestly, wouldn’t Gates have better things do to with his time than monitor the whereabouts of everyone on the planet by injecting bioluminescent markers?

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Rodgers, according to the NFL Network, tried to get the league to sign off on homeopathic treatment he received as a form of vaccination. Other NFL players, like quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Lamar Jackson and receiver Cole Beasley, have simply refused to take it. Any one of them, or the other players who remain unvaccinated, could yet be forced into isolation by a positive test, which for team purposes will become more and more significant as the second half of the NFL season rolls on. And their coaches, those same guys who continually stress the importance of team goals, let them continue on a path that is undeniably selfish. The sports-team environment is a microcosm of wider society: you take the vaccine to protect yourself, but also to help the others around you.

In the NFL context, every player who gets vaccinated has given his team a better chance to win. Every player who doesn’t, does the opposite. As the Packers, and their fans, are now learning.

• Email: sstinson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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