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The Phillies’ COVID-19 limbo is a helpful reminder that athletes aren’t any smarter than the general population | David Murphy

Vaccination is a personal choice, and choosing not to get vaccinated is a dumb personal choice. But there's nothing morally wrong with dumb decision-making.

Aaron Nola pitching against the Marlins on June 30.
Aaron Nola pitching against the Marlins on June 30.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Vaccination is a personal choice. In most instances, choosing not to get vaccinated is a dumb personal choice. But so is getting yourself worked up about other people’s dumb personal choices. Especially when those choices involve needles.

There isn’t much more to say about the latest filing under the #LOLPhillies hashtag. Everyone knew the Phillies have been playing at a competitive disadvantage as one of seven teams in Major League Baseball that had not reached the 85% vaccination threshold required for the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions. As such, everyone knew that there was a decent chance that somebody in the clubhouse would test positive at some point, as Alec Bohm did on Sunday. They knew that any positive test was liable to have significant downstream effects, as it did when the Phillies placed three other players on the COVID-19 list for contact tracing, one of whom had been scheduled to start that day’s game. Nobody knew for sure that Aaron Nola, Connor Brogdon and Bailey Falter were vaccinated, but they have a pretty good idea now, given that vaccinated players are not subject to contact tracing.

Beyond that, nobody knows nearly enough of anything to waste any time time atop a soapbox. It’s unfortunate that the list of COVID-19 side effects has grown over the past year to include delirium and moral grandstanding. From masks to modes of social interaction to beliefs and preferences about vaccinations, we’ve spent nearly a year-and-a-half engaged in a weird ideological civil war whose fronts continue to multiply even as the case counts drop. It’s exhausting. It’s unnecessary. It’s harshing the vibe of what should be an awesome summer for everyone. The world is open. The president is boring. Go sit at a bar and drink a beer.

The current reality is particularly frustrating for someone whose ideology more or less aligns with the faction of people who just can’t bring themselves to respond to news like Sunday’s in a proportionate manner. It’s absurd that I still feel the need to prelude the discussion of certain topics with my bona fides. I am pro-vaccine. I am anti-COVID-19. I wore my mask without complaint. Hell, I spent two weeks spraying Lysol on my nonperishables when I returned home from the grocery store. I commiserate with the notion that the loss of four Phillies to the COVID-19 list counts as another self-inflicted wound in a season that already warranted the removal of all sharp objects from the clubhouse. I blame the former president for forfeiting the messaging war and turning what should have been the ultimate in nonpartisan moments into another vehicle for owning the political opposition.

There have been few greater fiascos in American social history than the last year-and-a-half. But given all that we’ve dealt with during that time, is it really worth spending any amount of mental or emotional energy ridiculing the medical decision-making of a handful of overprivileged 20-somethings?

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Granted, it also isn’t worth ridiculing the ridicule of those who can’t help but use the current situation as another chance to establish the moral high ground. But I have a column to write, and I get paid to write it, so there’s at least something tangible in it for me. Everybody else. . .what’s the point? Sure, opting against the vaccination is a selfish decision. That’s true within the framework of a clubhouse and within the framework of a society. Everything that we know about these vaccines says that any individual risk they carry pales in comparison to the reduction in collective risk that comes with each jab. In both baseball and in the world at large, the choice to get vaccinated is quite literally a choice to take one for the team.

That being said, people make selfish decisions all the time, and I’m not sure that the ramifications of this particular decision warrants moral outrage. Fact is, we don’t have any idea what sorts of mental, physical, emotional and psychological processes factored into these players’ decisions not to get vaccinated. Maybe they already had COVID-19 and didn’t see the point. Maybe they are afraid of needles. Maybe some of them genuinely believed that the side effects would hamper their performance.

A lot of people have been ridiculing Phillies reliever Brandon Kintzler for comments that he made a few weeks ago that suggested the vaccine posed an injury risk. But his reasoning at least makes a little bit of sense.

“I don’t know, it knocks you out really bad that night and then we had a game,” Kintzler said. “I pitched two innings and my body was just ... I think everyone should recover for a week from that thing. Archie [Bradley] strained his oblique after it. [Matt] Joyce had back problems. There has to be some science behind it.”

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Kintzler wasn’t saying that the vaccine caused injuries. He was saying that the vaccine causes fatigue and weakness, and that playing baseball when fatigued and weak can lead to injuries. Both of those statements are 100% true. It’s probably a stretch to think that multiple Phillies players ended up injured because of the vaccine. And it takes some suspect logical reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that the best course of action is to not get the vaccine. But lots of people are illogical. Lots of them have irrational fears. Baseball players are not any different in that regard.

The real problem is that we do this thing where we expect people in the spotlight to be wiser and more worthy of emulation than people in the general population. Kyrie Irving believes the same dumb things as a lot of other people. Same goes for ballplayers who think it’s in their best interest to eschew vaccination. As Joe Girardi said recently, it is what it is. And it isn’t worth fighting a war over.