- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Washington Nationals fired a small number of full-time staff in wake of the team’s recent COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to a report — making the baseball club one of the first professional sports teams to terminate employment over an individual’s vaccination status.

The Athletic reported the Nationals parted ways with eight scouts, at least two of whom were unvaccinated. Last week, the Nationals publicly acknowledged a vaccine mandate for non-playing, full-time employees,  including coaches, executives and staff.

And Nationals Vice President Bob Boone informed the club he’s resigning rather than comply with the organization’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a source told The Associated Press later Wednesday.

Boone, 73, has been with Washington since 2004 and moved into his role as vice president and senior adviser to general manager Mike Rizzo after the 2015 season. He was assistant GM and vice president of player development from 2006-2013.

The father of New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone was a four-time All-Star catcher during his 19-year major league career. Bob Boone also managed the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds.

The Nationals said employees were notified of the policy Aug. 12 and had until Aug. 26 to provide proof of full vaccination or one dose or apply for an exemption.

“As a company, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to keep one another safe and felt that mandating vaccines was the absolute right thing to do for our employees and our community,” the Nationals said in a statement Friday.

The Nationals’ decision to act signals what is a likely shift in professional sports as franchises go from encouraging to mandating the vaccine. A handful of other MLB teams — such as the Baltimore Orioles and the Detroit Tigers — have instituted similar policies, while leagues like the NFL and NBA have protocols in place that require vaccination in order to interact with players.

Leagues have yet to institute a vaccine mandate for athletes as the health protocols have been collectively bargained with the players’ unions. To encourage vaccination, some like the NFL and MLB have put in strict protocols for unvaccinated individuals that dramatically loosen after getting the vaccine.

The Athletic also reported Wednesday that the NBA will forbid unvaccinated players from entering home arenas or training facilities in cities that have local vaccine requirements, like New York and San Francisco. Both cities require people to be vaccinated to participate in indoor activities unless a player has a medical or religious exemption.

The change would affect the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors. The local mandates affect only unvaccinated players in those states — meaning the visiting team will be exempted.

As a whole, the four major sports leagues have had strong vaccination rates. The NFL has had 93% of its players receive at least one dose, while the NBA (90%) and NHL (85%) are on similar trajectories before their seasons begin. In Major League Baseball, 85% of those in Tier 1 and 2 — players, coaches, executives and full-time staff — have been vaccinated. That’s higher than the U.S.’ vaccination rate, which hit 70% among adults early last month.

But there has been tension in sports, as in society, over the topic of vaccination.

Just this week, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer found himself in hot water after admitting the team essentially weighed a player’s vaccination status before deciding roster cuts. “It was certainly in consideration,” Meyer told reporters.

Meyer’s comments prompted the NFL’s Players Association to launch a formal investigation into the matter as league rules forbid teams from cutting unvaccinated players solely on that issue.

The Jaguars released a statement Wednesday that attempted to clarify Meyer’s remarks, releasing a statement that said in part “no player was released because of their vaccination status.”

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera said that even with the team’s vaccination rate climbing over the past few months, some players on his team have their “dug in their heels” and won’t get the shot.

There have been some notable vaccine skeptics from the sports world, from Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley to retired NBA point guard John Stockton. The latter appeared in an anti-vaccine documentary.

Some teams have struggled to combat the virus, even with those vaccinated. The Nationals, for instance, had four players and eight coaches in July test positive, including then-star shortstop Trea Turner. Manager Dave Martinez said only one of those dozen was unvaccinated.

The Tennesee Titans, too, dealt with nine positive tests last month, sidelining quarterback Ryan Tannehill and coach Mike Vrabel — both of whom were vaccinated.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick noted that vaccinated people were still testing positive when defending his decision to cut quarterback Cam Newton. Belichick denied Newton was released because of his vaccination status.

The quarterback is assumed to be unvaccinated because he’d wear a mask when talking indoors to reporters — a requirement for unvaccinated players — and he was sidelined for five days because of a reported testing mishap when getting tested daily. Only unvaccinated players have to get tested daily.

“I would just point out that I don’t know what the number is, 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.”

According to the NFL, 68 players and staff tested positive for COVID-19 during a three-week span from Aug. 1 to Aug. 21. The league said the positive rate was seven times higher for unvaccinated individuals than vaccinated ones.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.


• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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