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Couch: Cam Newton, unvaccinated players should focus their ire on NFL players’ union

Op-ed
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I can save the NFL Players Association a lot of time in its investigation into Urban Meyer and his comments that he factored players' COVID vaccination status into his final player cuts.

The NFLPA sounded awfully strong and indignant. But here is my three-part advice to the NFLPA on how to get its investigation done in mere seconds:

Look in a mirror.
Point.
Say "Guilty."
Investigation over.

The NFLPA created this mess. At the very least, it could have stopped it. And now it claims to want to know whether teams across the NFL were dumping players for not having taken the jab? Well, they were. All of them were.

"Everyone was considered," said Meyer, coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. "That was part of it — production, let's start talking about this. And also is he vaccinated or not? Can I say that that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration."

Meyer is new to the NFL and hasn't yet grasped the concept of going along and getting along. So he keeps doing things such as trying out Tim Tebow at tight end when there might be hundreds of union dues-paying failed tight ends who would've liked the chance.

If the NFLPA is upset with Meyer, it's only because he didn't offer the savvy that New England coach Bill Belichick did when he was asked if Cam Newton's vaccination status played a role in his release.

"No," Belichick fibbed.

Of course it did.

The league's protocols are much more stringent for players who haven't been vaccinated than for those who have.

For one, unvaccinated players have to be tested at a team site every day. Vaccinated players have to be tested just once a week. There are all sorts of protocols like that, including that unvaccinated players are more likely to have to skip playing time or be put on the COVID list and made to sit out.

That makes unvaccinated players worth less than vaccinated ones.

The NFL wanted these rules, but the league is in this for the league's best interest. It is a PR benefit to be proactive on COVID, and also owners have legit concerns about losing players to COVID. Lose too many and you can't play a game, or maybe can't make the playoffs. If you can't play because too many unvaccinated players get COVID, then your team might forfeit. If it's because vaccinated players get it? The game is likely rescheduled.

But the NFLPA is there to represent the players, not the league's interests. Yet the NFLPA went along with the NFL's suggested rules and protocols.

Without data, I'd say it's safe to guess that at least 50% of the players didn't want the vaccine. In agreeing to the NFL's plan, the NFLPA set up a lower class of NFL citizens.

It's hard to know what the NFLPA and executive director DeMaurice Smith stand for. A union is supposed to stand firmly against a strong-arming boss. Personally, I like the NFL's COVID rules because the players retain their rights while being pressured into getting the jab.

But I can't see any way possible that a union would like this.

Is the NFLPA trying to get everyone vaccinated? I don't think so, as it rejected that plan from the NFL. Is it trying to say that it knows better than the players about COVID? How are the players' desires reflected?

Coaches would have to consider vaccination status. If a vaccinated player is found to have COVID, he'd be subjected to less time away than an unvaccinated one.

Coaches are just trying to win football games. That requires as much continuity and reliability as possible.

The Jaguars tried to clean up Meyer's mess by denying that vaccination status was a factor. Then they winked and said it was.

"Availability is one of the many factors taken into account when making roster decisions."

Yes, and vaccinated players have much more availability than unvaccinated ones. Cam Newton had to sit out from the Patriots for five days because he got his test at the wrong place. Had he been vaccinated, he wouldn't have needed a daily test and presumably would have been available.

No matter how the Jaguars phrase it, one plus one still equals two.

Vaccination is considered, like experience or speed, or whether a player is injury-prone.

"I would just point out that I don't know what the number is — you guys can look it up, you have the access to a lot of information — but the number of players, coaches, and staff members that have been infected by COVID in this training camp who have been vaccinated is a pretty high number," Belichick said. "So I wouldn't lose sight of that."

Well, ESPN reported that the league's numbers say 68 of 7,190 tests among players and staff were positive in the first three weeks of August. And the rate of positive tests among the unvaccinated was seven times higher than among the vaccinated.

But this isn't an argument about the vaccine. It's about the extra time on what's basically a COVID injury list that an unvaccinated player is subject to.

Even an anti-vaxxer coach would have to consider that.

A team might overlook that to keep a star player. But the players fighting for a roster spot at all, the ones who need their union's help the most?

They're the ones most likely to lose their jobs. The NFLPA made sure of that.

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