Everyone has taken a side now in the COVID vaccine debate. In the past few days the NFL, which is serving as a microcosm of America, has begun to feel like an old Western movie. Only instead of the setting being a dusty field with Clint Eastwood and his adversaries holding twitching fingers over their holsters, this battle is taking place in America's new Wild West: Twitter.
Not long ago, it seemed like the COVID debate was starting to wind down. Instead, it is just now coming to a head.
The NFL players are on one end of the street, as Thursday was tweet-and-delete day. Players reacted angrily — and then had second thoughts — to a league memo laying out rules that pressure them into getting the vaccine. Roughly, if teams can't play a game because they have too many positive COVID tests, and a certain number of those tested haven't gotten the vaccine, then their team could forfeit the game and no one on either team will be paid.
Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins was the first star to react on Twitter: "Never thought I would say this, But being in a position to hurt my team because I don't want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @nfl."
He later deleted that and wrote "Freedom?"
So players are fighting on Twitter, the NFL is laying down heavy-handed rules, and the media — including woke influencer Jemele Hill — have fired away.
And the funny thing is that the arguments are all blowing by each other like tumbleweeds in the breeze. One faction is arguing science, another is arguing freedom of personal choice, another is arguing about business and the economy. There is no cross-section. And there is just way too much noise out there and no one is actually listening — only stating their entrenched opinions.
The players are in a tough spot because they think someone is trying to force them to do something they don't want to do with their health, which they consider a personal decision. The league is a business, making business decisions, and doesn't want to lose games, meaning tickets sold, meaning TV viewers.
And Hill responded on Twitter to Hopkins this way:
"So a vaccine that's proven to be wildly effective and protects people against a potentially deadly virus will get a NFL player to retire but not the threat of imminent brain trauma that they expose themselves to every game. Got it."
No, it seems as if she doesn't get it at all. Do you see? Hill is arguing science while some of the NFL players are arguing personal choice and individual freedom regarding their health and bodies.
Their arguments are passing in the breeze.
Does Hill actually not see the disconnect in her own tweet? NFL players, now with knowledge of CTE and brain trauma, feel they're making a personal choice to play a sport they know is dangerous to them. They want the same personal choice about injecting something into their bodies.
And when Hopkins suggested he might retire rather than take the jab, he wasn't talking about his health. He was talking about the feeling that he should have the right to make his own decisions.
From my end, it seems that the anti-vax argument isn't even about the vaccine, but about the American right to individuality. Don't tell me what to do. Don't tell me you know better. Don't tell me you're smarter than me. Don't try to take control of my body by forcing me to put something in it.
The problem is, this isn't an individual issue. It's a community issue.
Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin got things going a few days ago when he talked about NFL rules that teams with 85% of their players vaccinated will have a competitive advantage this season. Why? Because under NFL rules agreed to by the players' association, vaccinated teams will have fewer restrictions in practices and meetings.
So Irvin ripped into the Cowboys and, in theory, any team that hasn't met the 85% threshold, as not doing all they can to win football games.
"Jimmy [Johnson, Irvin's former coach in Dallas] made that abundantly clear," Irvin said, according to ESPN. "And not being one of the [vaccinated] teams says there's other things to a great number of people on this team that are more important than winning championships. And that makes me worried."
In came the NFL's original anti-vaxxer, Bills receiver Cole Beasley, on Twitter:
"I'll get vaccinated and be an advocate for it if Pfizer puts a percentage of its earnings from the vaccine in my wife's name," he tweeted recently.
I guess the point is that Pfizer isn't in this to save the world, but only to make a buck. The question I have is this: What is Beasley in this for? I'm not asking why he's playing football. The question is why he has chosen a second career as anti-vax influencer, claiming that common sense leads him to the conclusion that the vaccine is some sort of plot against human freedoms?
Mark Cuban does understand the platform and fully understands its weight and responsibility. So he argued back at Beasley through Twitter: "I'll tell you what Cole. You get vaccinated and promote vaccination on all your social, I'll buy your wife a share of Pfizer stock. It pays a 3.78% dividend. That way she is getting a percentage of Pfizer's earnings. Deal?"
Beasley tweeted back at Cuban that he doesn't want his money and wasn't being "literal."
So it's just some sort of exercise for fun? Because that seems like a dangerous game to me, though that might just be the Bill Gates microchip in my head doing the talking.
There is no point in arguing for or against the vaccine any more. We are officially done. There are no arguments left to be made. We all know all of them by now. What we don't know is how all this COVID bickering is going to impact what happens on the fields and courts.
A New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game was postponed when six Yankees failed a COVID test. Athletes keep showing up in Tokyo for the Olympics only to be turned away because they have COVID.
In fact, earlier this week, an Olympics official wouldn't rule out the possibility that the Olympics might still be canceled if enough athletes show up with COVID.
Let's get back to the tweetin' and deletin' in the Wild West.
"Vaccine I can't do it," Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette tweeted ... then deleted.
"The NFLPA F---ing suck," New England linebacker Matt Judon tweeted.
But their anti-vax leader, Beasley, said nothing has changed. He's free:
"If you're scared of me then steer clear, or get vaccinated. Point. Blank. Period. I may die of covid, but I'd rather die actually living."Clint Eastwood couldn't have said it better.