Washington Capitals: Here’s Why Vaccines Should be Mandated for Players

Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic raging across the globe, it would be wise for the Washington Capitals to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all of its players barring a medical exemption.

Typically, medical exemptions are based on contraindications (reasons to not administer a product) as listed by the FDA with guidance from the CDC. The only listed contraindication for Pfizer’s vaccine is a “known history of a severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) to any component of COMIRNATY”, which essentially is saying that unless you are highly allergic to one of the ingredients in the vaccine, you don’t have a medical exemption. With that said, many employers and institutions are including things like sincerely-held religious beliefs as valid exemptions from taking the vaccine.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 vaccines have become a hotly debated topic in the United States and abroad. Approximately 64 percent of adults in the United States are fully vaccinated. The NHL is faring much better; in mid-August the NHL’s Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, confirmed that at least 85 percent of the NHL’s players are vaccinated. As the season approaches and the NHL releases their updated COVID-19 protocols, that number is sure to rise. Regardless of that, Ted Leonsis and the team’s executives should require their players to be fully vaccinated.

Recently, the FDA fully authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in people 16 years of age or older. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance states that employer’s can require COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment for those physically entering the workplace, provided they offer reasonable accommodations.

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The guidance from the EEOC goes on to explain that employers “may need to respond to allegations that the requirement has a disparate impact on—or disproportionately excludes—employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin under Title VII (or age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (40+)).” With the guidance from the EEOC and the FDA’s full authorization of the Pzfizer vaccine, the Washington Capitals seem to be well within their right to require vaccines for their players, regardless of the NHL’s stance.

The NHL has recently released their updated COVID-19 protocols and they reinforce a strong message: the NHL encourages and expects its players to get vaccinated. While stopping short of mandating vaccinations, the NHL’s protocols are clear that by choosing to not be vaccinated, the player will face significant consequences. Some notable points from the protocols as reported by Elliotte Friedman of TSN are as follows: 

  • Teams can suspend unvaccinated players who are “unable to participate in club activities.” The player in question will be docked the equivalent of one day’s pay for each day they cannot participate. Some exceptions are medical exemptions, sincerely held religious beliefs, or being in quarantine due to being deemed a high-risk close contact.
  • Unvaccinated players are not allowed the same freedom that their vaccinated counterparts are. For unvaccinated players, they are not allowed to enter any “internal venues” aside from the team hotel, practice facility, or game arena. They can’t use shared facilities in the team hotel such as the gym or pool. They are unable to leave the hotel to eat or purchase food at any restaurant that is open to the public; the only way they are allowed to do so is if the establishment offers a curbside-like service where they won’t have to enter the restaurant’s main entrance. Even inside of their hotel rooms, unvaccinated players cannot have any visitors aside from fully vaccinated family members. This includes teammates and team staff.
  • Unvaccinated players will be tested daily while vaccinated players will be subjected to PCR testing at least every 72 hours.
  • Any person whose job, role, position, or access entails or entitles them to have personal interactions (within 12 feet) of club hockey operations personnel (including players) must be fully vaccinated.

Regardless of the consequences outlined by the NHL, the Washington Capitals should take it a step further. Pushed up against the cap and with limited depth outside of their established starting lineup, the Capitals cannot afford to have players missing time due to preventable virus-related issues.

A season ago, the Caps had Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Ilya Samsonov, and Evegeny Kuznetsov miss a significant amount of time due to COVID infections and/or breaches of the NHL’s COVID-protocols. The team was fined $100,000 for failing to adhere to the NHL’s protocols. A season ago, vaccines were not widely available.

This season, there’s a simple solution: require vaccinations. If the same situation arises this season and Ovechkin, Orlov, Samsonov, and Kuznetsov are fully vaccinated, they wouldn’t be in-breach of the NHL’s COVID protocols. The Russians wouldn’t get suspended like they did a season ago for their infamous hotel room gaming session and more importantly, Samsonov and Kuznetsov likely wouldn’t become severely ill again.

Ted Leonsis and the Washington Capitals organization has invested a lot of time and money into their players. Leonsis should not only do what is right for his players’ health, whom he considers family, but he should also protect his investment and require vaccinations for his players. Of course, players have the choice to make the decision to not get vaccinated but they do so with consequences. One of those consequences should be to not be a member of the Washington Capitals.

Furthermore, the fans spend their hard-earned money on memorabilia and tickets to see their favorite players compete out on the ice. Many fans were upset with Ilya Samsonov because of his offseason ATV accident, saying it was a preventable injury caused by poor decision-making from the young netminder. What’s the difference between that and refusing to get a safe, highly-effective vaccine?

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The players have an obligation to not only themselves but to their teammates to take care of their bodies. Eating healthy and training in the offseason is an expectation and when players fail to take care of themselves, they often times underperform and wind up being released. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is just another important part of taking care of their bodies. If a player, who otherwise could safely take the vaccine, refuses the vaccine and winds up severely-ill and isn’t able to perform, that should be considered unacceptable. This season, we all want a sense of normalcy and freedom returned to us; the simple way to achieve that is to get vaccinated.