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NFLPA should come to the defense of cut players who refused the vaccine

By John Burbridge

Love or loathe him, Donald Trump deserves credit for something he spearheaded at the end of his term.

This parting gift is not a small one. Even the trademark adjectives “Bigly” and “Yuge!” don’t do it justice.

In fact, it’s one of the most beneficial contributions ever bestowed to this country by a head of state.

Operation Warp Speed.

The private-public partnership to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines was an effort that exceeded sober expectations. A multitude of individuals and organizations are owed a debt of gratitude for their roles in this historic “operation”.

Especially Donald Trump.

No. He didn’t invent the vaccine(s). And yes, his actions — or non-actions — throughout his final year in office when the pandemic was raging out of control merit abject condemnation. But in an ironic twist, Trump has emerged as the unsung anti-hero of this saga.

Embracing grievance in favor of governing was an unapologetic “trait” of our 45th president. But the Trump trait that makes him larger than other lives is the ability to create colossal structures that can be seen from outer space … and complete them in “warp speed” set deadlines.

Like a modern day Ramesses II, Trump has erected skyscrapers with his grandiose brand name blazing across their facades more as temples to himself than for practical function. Still, they didn’t sprout by clay alone, and it took a commanding force of nature — something one of Trump’s turncoat lawyers admits he was greatly impressed if not seduced by — to thrust these phallic symbols toward the stratosphere.

Think of all the construction and infrastructure projects mired in limbo that could use the infusion of someone like Trump — or someone who knows the nuanced ways of bending if not breaking a few impeding laws and building codes, as well as whose pockets to line … not to suggest that Trump ever resorted to such antics while putting his signature on skylines. Regardless, Trump has a penchant for Whatever It Takes.

Cynics and Trump-haters (not that they’re one of the same) may claim that Operation Warp Speed being the catalyst for viable vaccines less than a year into the pandemic were cajoled and compelled by Trump being hellbent for reelection. Selfish motives or not, a viable vaccine would not have been available in such record time in any other scenario where Trump wasn’t in office and desperately trying to stay in office.

Thus, thanks to Trump and his successor Joe Biden — if we’re going to saddle Trump with some of the blame for the Afghanistan fiasco, then we should give Biden some credit for eschewing the every-state-for-themselves approach that addled testing and tracking, and instead adopting a more comprehensive strategy to vaccine distribution — just about every American can get fully vaccinated.

If they choose to.

This week is the start of the National Football League’s 2021 season. Thanks in part to Operation Warp Speed, games will be played in front of spectators. Many of them willingly unvaccinated.

A portion of the players on the field will also be unvaccinated. But there will be notable absentees, including several recent All-Pros and a league MVP (Cam Newton), who were unceremoniously cut this past preseason.

With slips of the tongue from several head coaches and general managers, it has been suggested that some of these cuts were related to the players’ anti-vaccination stands.

The NFL Players Association is currently investigating these claims. It should. And if it could be verified that a player’s non-vaccinated status played a part in his release, a civil lawsuit should be promptly filed on the player’s behalf.

Of course the National Football League has the built-in advantage of a private entity. It has the latitude to impose rules and regulations to those who freely choose to play in its realm — think of the kneel protest ban proposed circa 2016.

Not to stir up more outrage from the anti-vaxxers, but there is actually an obscure Supreme Court ruling that grants the government the right to punish individuals who refuse a mandated vaccine.

In the case of Jacobson vs. Massachusetts (Feb. 20, 1905), the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 majority against Pastor Henning Jacobson, who refused to pay a $5 fine for not getting the smallpox vaccination. Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote for the majority: “The good and welfare of the Commonwealth, of which the legislature is primarily the judge, is the basis on which the police power rests in Massachusetts.”

Now there’s a ruling overdue to be revisited. Though Pastor Jacobson didn’t cite religious freedom in his refusal — he and his son suffered health consequences from a previous vaccine — personal beliefs against receiving medical treatment have more currency these days than they did more than a century ago.

No one should be forced or coerced to get the vaccine, publicly or even privately. And I dare to include those working in the medical profession as well as students and teachers, though many schools have long since required other preventive vaccines.

Vaccine mandates cede too much high ground to the anti-vaxxers. And from such self-righteous perches, objectivity — like accurately weighing the pros and cons of COVID-19 vaccines — gets more easily cast off as cowardice.

To note, vaccine hesitancy is not just cornered by the QAnon crowd. Though it was an act of prudence, vaccine production and subsequent FDA approval was rushed if not time warped. Also, the oversell of vaccine effectiveness and safety naturally seems suspicious to a generation of MeTV viewers who suffer two or three Zantac class action ads every Columbo episode.

Even with mounting evidence showing that the vaccinated are less likely to be felled by COVID complications than the unvaccinated, there remains a level of uncertainty with the vaccines. Think of new car models. Unseen bugs always seem to rear their heads just to humble the geniuses.

But being able to attain such quick coast-to-coast access, this country is so much more ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the world. Vast real-time data should aid adjustments for proper post-vaccine behavior and to combat variants.

We’re closer to cornering this deadly opponent along the ropes and — with a little more self-sacrifice — knocking it out for good.

Make America Great Again? We’re in position to Make America Greater Than Ever Before.

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