The Case for the National Pastime to Practice Real Patriotism
With a global pandemic raging, Major League Baseball instituted a hodgepodge of measures designed to keep players and fans safe. Some of those protections included fewer games, shortened games, limited attendance, frequent testing, isolation for players with positive tests, cashless concessions, and gathering restrictions.
Yet all 29 American teams are now allowing full attendance again at their ballparks. This change comes despite the fact that Covid and its increasing number of lethal strains are hitting the United States with devastating effects. MLB should take its responsibility as the national pastime seriously and stop hosting potential superspreader events. It is time for MLB to require proof of vaccination for fans who wish to attend in person.
Covid-19’s Current Impact
The Covid pandemic is arguably becoming one of the most calamitous and deadly events in American history.
This plague has killed 1.7 percent of Americans that it has infected. The total death count now exceeds more than 600,000. In addition to the loss of life, many more people who survived Covid are dealing with ongoing health complications. Survivors report loss of taste, smell, and other post-Covid conditions.
The death percentage is comparable to the percentages killed in the Civil War and World War II. Two percent of Americans were killed in the former, and two percent of the world population was killed in the latter. These wars are often cited as two of the most influential events in American history and society, and Covid could begin to have a similar outsized impact on our country’s development and identify if left unchecked.
In response to this devastation, people have isolated, locked down, and reduced even human contact and touch. The impact on the psychological health of individuals and society as a whole has been significant. Scientists have found that levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and corresponding mental illnesses are higher than in normal, non-pandemic times. Fortunately, even as the quality of life decreased, suicide rates declined during the pandemic.
Despite the reality of 600,000 dead Americans, millions refuse to receive the vaccines that have proven effective in stopping or reducing the severity of the virus. Their reasons vary from political to religious to indignorant, but they share in common a refusal to take the one step most likely to end this pandemic. The majority of Americans accept reality and apply science, with 59 percent opting for vaccination. However, the holdout 41 percent risk making Covid a permanent virus in the United States and inculcating new and more deadly variants.
With such a severe death rate, breakdown of normal society, and vaccination rate well below the likely minimum 80 percent needed for herd immunity, many organizations have started mandating or requiring proof of vaccination.
Trend Toward Proof of Vaccination
No American government at the national, state or local level has mandated vaccination for all residents or citizens in its jurisdiction. This key fact needs to be remembered when contemplating proof of vaccination requirements. These kinds of requirements preserve the freedom of Americans to make their own medical decisions. Each individual may choose to receive or decline the free vaccine. However, like all choices in life, this decision has consequences. What some governments and businesses are considering and implementing are consequences that range from loss of employment to denial of services to limited entertainment options for those who refuse to help end the pandemic by receiving a vaccine.
The federal bureaucracy, American military, state bureaucracies, local governments, and private businesses are increasingly requiring proof of vaccination as criterion of continued employment. Some cities are requiring that restaurants that operate indoor dining require proof of vaccination of customers wishing to be seated; some restaurants and bars are requiring this without government direction. Entertainers like Jason Isbell are requiring proof of vaccination for those who wish to attend concerts.
The common element here is choice. No one is forced to work for a particular company, eat at a particular restaurant, or go to a particular concert or game. An employee may choose to receive the vaccine to keep himself or herself and his or her coworkers safe and thereby continue employment, or that employee can choose to refuse to receive the vaccine and look for work elsewhere. Diners can get the vaccine to enjoy indoor dining, or they can refuse and order takeout or cook at home. Concert-goers can opt for the vaccine to enjoy live music in-person, or they can decline and listen to Spotify or play their own music.
This choice in the service of ending this pandemic needs to come to Major League Baseball.
Baseball is the national pastime. In many ways, the story of baseball is the story of America, and vice versa. Baseball’s popularity grew and spread during the Civil War, and many of the best players of the time served in the effort to save the Union and free the slaves. In World War II, the top stars once again served the nation in uniform to fight fascism. Now, in another time of national crisis, baseball has the potential to help.
Mirroring the trend among businesses and musicians, MLB should require proof of vaccination for fans who wish to attend games in person. This policy would still allow those who refuse to get vaccinated the option to watch games on television or the internet, to listen to them on the radio, or to pick up a bat and ball and play their own games. More importantly, this decision would increase the likelihood that more Americans will choose to receive the vaccine and get our country closer to achieving herd immunity.
MLB could partner with local health care providers to coordinate vaccine distributions at ballparks. Fans who are not vaccinated could then arrive, receive their shot, and attend the game knowing that they have done their part. Teams could even continue this season’s earlier MLB Vaccinate at the Plate program that offered free tickets to those who choose to get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, not a single state or province with an MLB team has reached the minimum 80 percent threshold. As each state does, MLB could drop the proof of vaccination requirement. Massachusetts (74 percent), Ontario (73 percent), and California (67 percent) are closest. Georgia (48 percent), Ohio (51 percent), and Missouri (51 percent) are furthest.
Proof of vaccination should also be required of players who choose to continue to play in the big leagues, though the Major League Baseball Players Association likely would be successful in efforts to prevent this as a precondition to play. However, a crowd proof of vaccination requirement might persuade those few holdouts among the players to do their part at long last to defeat this virus.
Baseball’s sins are many, from segregation to the reserve clause, but this beloved sport of ours has also risen to the occasion, sometimes ahead of the majority of society. By requiring proof of vaccination for fans choosing to attend games in-person, MLB can once again lead, keep its fans safe, and do its part of bringing entertainment to the masses while simultaneously helping to end this horrible pandemic once and for all.
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