Officially, the NFL Players Association didn’t pick a fight with the NFL over Thursday’s memo that ramps up the pressure on unvaccinated players to get vaccinated. Unofficially, the union isn’t pleased.
As one union official predicted on Friday, there were no forfeits in 2020 and there will be no forfeits in 2021 — especially not with full stadiums of paying customers whose money would have to be refunded. They’ll get the games played, like they did in 2020. And they currently have more than enough vaccinated players to make that happen.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah described the NFL’s memo to PFT as “classically tactless.” Beyond that, Atallah declined to comment.
The union, we’re told, wants to reduce the temperature when it comes to unvaccinated players being backed into a corner. The concern, per the source, is that when players lash out on social media against the vaccine, it potentially influences fans to take the same viewpoint.
That’s one of the main reasons why the union has resisted making vaccines mandatory. If that question were put to a vote of the union, it likely would prevail. After all, more than 80 percent of the membership have already gotten the vaccine. Forcing players who don’t want it and won’t get it to choose between vaccine or football will prompt more of them to use the available channels to complain about the league, about the union, and ultimately about the vaccine.
It’s the complaints about the vaccine that the NFLPA would prefer to avoid, in order to prevent potentially impressionable football fans from saying, for example, “If DeAndre Hopkins isn’t getting the vaccine, I’m not getting it either.”
Whether and to what extent football fans would rely on players for health-care advice isn’t clear, but this much is. When it comes to making important decisions, our nature is such that various factors combine into a stew that swirls around in our brains. Which ingredient will be the one to drive the eventual “yes” or “no” decision? Maybe a Cardinals fan in Arizona was wrestling on Thursday with the fresh pro-vaccine messaging from politicians and commentators who previously had spoken out against the vaccine. Maybe that fan was just about to decide to get vaccinated. Maybe Hopkins’ tweet was the thing that kept that from happening.
It’s impossible to thread popcorn on something like this. The broader point is that, the fewer the players who speak out against the vaccine, the lesser the chance that they’ll influence any of their social-media followers to not get it. That’s what the union is trying to avoid, and that’s why the union isn’t happy with Thursday’s empty threat of forfeitures, all in the name of squeezing any remaining anti-vaxxers in the 32 locker rooms to change their tunes and take their medicine, literally.