In 2020, players who missed one or more games due to placement on the COVID-19 reserve list received their game checks, regardless of whether they caught the virus at work or away from it. This year, there’s an important question that needs to be asked: Should unvaccinated players who land on the COVID-19 reserve list during the season be paid?
A persuasive argument could be made to withhold game checks if players who choose not to be vaccinated miss work due to a condition for which a vaccine exists. Yes, it’s the player’s right to decide whether he should be vaccinated. But why should his team have to pay an unvaccinated player who isn’t allowed to play because he tested positive?
It’s ultimately a matter for negotiation between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Although management and labor have decided that vaccines won’t be mandatory, real incentives to get vaccinated have been crafted by the two sides. With final rules and regulations for 2021 still to be determined, why not craft a simple provision that, if a player chooses not to get vaccinated and eventually can’t play because he has COVID-19 or because he’s had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, the player should not be entitled to receive his game check?
The approach seems fair. With team facilities generally safer than other places — especially if high percentages of players are vaccinated — there’s no reason to assume that anyone who gets it this year got it at work. If anything, it’s far more likely that whoever ends up getting it this year got it away from work. Why, then, should those players get paid?
With the salary cap roughly $25 million per team lower than it was expected to be this year, every dollar saved by not giving it to players who choose not to be vaccinated and then, because of that status, aren’t allowed to play becomes a dollar earned for next year’s cap. That’s definitely fair to the players who have chosen to get vaccinated, and who in turn will be available to play regardless of any COVID-19 developments.
This possibility creates a real conundrum for those who inexplicably have allowed matters relating to COVID-19 to become and remain political. Those inclined to shout down vaccination separately tend to adhere to the basic logic that people shouldn’t be paid money to which they aren’t entitled and that every dollar received must be earned through actual work. So why should a player who chooses not to be vaccinated and then who can’t play because he didn’t get vaccinated be entitled to be paid for work he can’t perform but, if vaccinated, could have?
However the question gets resolved, it’s a fair question to ask — and it’s a fair position to take that players who choose not to assume whatever remote risks there may be from getting the vaccination must instead assume the risk of not getting paid for games they can’t play, due to testing positive with COVID-19 or having close contact with someone who did.