LAKE FOREST — There are currently four players on the Chicago Bears roster that opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns around the coronavirus: Eddie Goldman, Jordan Lucas, Marquise Goodwin and Damien Williams. All but Goldman have made it clear they intend to play again this season.
General manager Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and new defensive coordinator Sean Desai have all said emphatically they expect Goldman to be back, but after their starting nose tackle was an unexplained no-show and definitely not excused from the mandatory minicamp last week many of us were left scratching our heads.
It is fruitless to guess at what’s up with Goldman, but there is a newly minted deadline date coming next week that could provide some clarity.
The league and the National Football League Players Association have agreed on new COVID-19 related safety protocols for the coming pre– and exhibition seasons and they will be every bit as stringent for unvaccinated players as they were last year.
All coaches and staff are required to get vaccinated, but apparently the NFLPA is having none of that for its members.
Vaccinated players will no longer test daily, will not have to wear masks around team facilities or during travel, will not have to socially distance from other vaccinated teammates, will not have to quarantine after high risk exposure, will have no travel restrictions, may eat in the team cafeteria with other vaccinated players, may use team saunas and steam rooms, and may interact with vaccinated family and friends during team travel.
Unvaccinated players will not enjoy any of those freedoms.
They will test daily, wear masks at all times, distance at all times, will have to quarantine after exposure and have travel restrictions, may not dine in the cafeteria or with vaccinated teammates, can’t use the steam or sauna rooms, can’t leave the team hotel during travel or interact with anyone outside the team traveling party on the road during which time they will be masked and distanced.
Life is going to be very difficult again this season for unvaccinated players, perhaps even worse than last year.
With concerns increasing over the Delta variant of the virus, not getting vaccinated is certainly a choice but also somewhat akin to playing Russian Roulette.
No one knows for sure what the percentage of vaccinated players is at this point, what it will be by the start of the season, nor do we know if Goldman has gotten shots.
Could this have anything to do with his sudden reluctance to return to the team?
What we have learned is players will be free to opt out again this season, and players with medical conditions that put them at higher risk will again receive a $350,000 stipend if they do.
However this year players opting out strictly for personal reasons will not receive the $150,000 stipend they did last season.
As you may have guessed the deadline for players to opt out is next Friday, July 2.
Let’s avoid the anti-vaccine debate for the moment.
But when we learn that the NFLPA has recently sent a memo to all its members in effect telling them “No club official, coach or anyone from management should be pressuring you into getting a vaccine and if they are, we need to know,” it is fair to ask whom the NFLPA is representing?
Why would they negotiate a deal that is extremely punitive for the unvaccinated and then encourage them not to get their shots?
This much is true.
Infection rates are continuing to plummet among the vaccinated and serious illness is nearing extinction, while there are new and rising concerns about another surge among those who haven’t gotten their shots.
Goldman was clearly concerned about the virus a year ago.
Of course there are a handful of other reasons that could have kept him at home last week during minicamp.
He has already made in excess of $20 million playing in the NFL.
There is still a lot more guaranteed money on the table if he plays, but if he is unwilling to get vaccinated but still as concerned about the virus as he was a year ago, nothing would be surprising about a second opt-out whether you agree with his reasoning or not.