HAYES: Phils, other unvaccinated athletes should lose money if they get COVID

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Jon Rahm watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during the third round of the Memorial golf tournament, Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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 straight 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 prick 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 worldometers.info, 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. Watch: If the players associations and the leagues put the players' paychecks in peril, the players would grow a conscience right quick.

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 sweet giveaway item (trust me, it's sweet). The Phillies are literally paying fans to get the shot.

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

Stupid games win stupid prizes: If an important player contracts COVID, 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 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.

All of this is exhausting. Seven months after vaccines became available, and after 19 months of the disease causing 612,596 COVID deaths in the U.S., as much as 40% of the population has reservations about getting a free shot. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands without access to vaccines continue to die abroad. This, while dictator Vladimir Putin plans to sell his unapproved Sputnik V shots to vaccine tourists in Russia.


Philadelphia Phillies reliever Hector Neris.

Make it hurt: We might live in the Land of the Free, but every society has rules that benefit the whole at a cost to the individual. And, as in real life, some individuals play a more important role than others.

Consider Hector Neris. He's the Phillies' closer. He said in April that he hadn't had the shot, and he appears to have declined the vaccine thus far. If he contracts the virus, the Phillies, who have no other real option to be their closer, will lose games. He is, arguably, their most irreplaceable player.

Neris makes $5 million this season; or, $27,322.40 per day. Should he test positive and miss the minimum 10 days, assuming he did not violate protocols, that absence would cost him nothing, though he probably would miss at least two save opportunities, which means more Sam Coonrod and Jose Alvarado. If Neris got sick and wasn't vaccinated, his absence should cost him $273,224.00. If he missed 20 days — not an outlandish prospect, considering teammate Scott Kingery missed a month last year — it's more than a half-million dollars.

Kingery has never regained his pre-COVID form, and he was demoted to triple A on Monday, the second time this season. The Phillies have lots of Scott Kingerys. They have one Hector Neris.

Get the shot, my man.

Oh, the arrogance: Neither of Rahm's playing partners Saturday, Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler, said he was vaccinated, either. Both scoffed at vaccination talk because, they claimed, they had COVID last year.

They hardly could have sounded dumber or more poorly informed.

A study in England indicated that 16% of patients who'd had COVID could get it again. That study ended in January, long before new strains of the virus developed, so 16% is almost certainly low.

Let's say, in the cases of Cantlay and Scheffler, that there's just a 16% chance that a previously infected, unvaccinated golfer could, like Rahm, lose $1.674 million, or even more — the U.S. Open has a first prize of $2.25 million. Why would a player risk a chance to win a life-altering major championship?

For better or worse, athletes such as these 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 carriers can't get near newborns.