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There are two things Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward doesn’t mind letting fans, media, Major League Baseball or anyone else know.
One, he hasn’t received the COVID-19 vaccine.
And two, he thinks the emphasis on the percentage of players who are vaccinated is greatly misplaced.
MLB has dangled the carrot that if teams reach 85% vaccination of Tier 1 personnel, they can loosen coronavirus restrictions such as wearing masks in the dugout or limits on mobility during road trips.
But in Heyward’s mind, it’s the fans who are more at risk, especially now that stadiums are opening to full capacity, as Wrigley Field did for this weekend’s series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“There’s concern about players,” Heyward said, “(but) there needs to be more concern about people on the outside, the people in the stands, the 100% sitting next to each other that aren’t getting tested the way we are getting tested and say they’re vaccinated or not — if they’re concerned.”
Heyward said the choice of whether to get vaccinated should be an individual decision the players make with their families.
He also suggested that enforcement for fans has been lax since Day 1.
“In the beginning of the year, no one was wearing masks … that’s this stadium, that’s Atlanta, that’s wherever we played, they weren’t wearing masks,” he said.
The Cubs have said fans no longer have to wear masks at the ballpark if they’re fully vaccinated, but Heyward cast skepticism on that policy.
“I don’t think they’re saying, ‘OK, you’re not wearing a mask, you’re not wearing a mask, you’re not wearing a mask, so y’all need to go somewhere.’ They’re not even thinking about doing that,” Heyward said. “But they are pointing at the people that get tested at least three times a week, we’re around each other every day, who know whose families are vaccinated and who’s not. We know if we test positive, we don’t show up the next game. Therefore, if we’re present and we’re here, none of us tested positive.
“To me it feels like a lot of wasted concern on a group of a people that is pretty much checked off on almost every single day.”
Heyward backed recent comments by Anthony Rizzo, who was the first Cub to publicly acknowledge he isn’t vaccinated.
“It weighed hard,” Rizzo said Friday. “It’s a decision I made, and I stand with it. Obviously there are people that are going to hate me and think I’m disgusting, and there are people that are going to side with me. It’s out in the open. I try to keep everything personal, but as far as being a leader on this team, I go out there every day and play your best baseball. Don’t be an idiot off the field, just continue to be smart and be aware of everything that’s going on.”
There was some backlash on social media, and Cubs President Jed Hoyer said, “I wish those individuals’ choices led to us being 85% (fully vaccinated).”
“Public backlash?” Heyward mused Sunday when asked about criticism. “That just means people talk about it. People talk about (expletive) every single day, and none of that plays here for us.”
He pivoted again that more focus should be placed on fan safety and enforcement.
“In the grand scheme it doesn’t matter,” he said about players’ vaccination rates. “You can take it and say, ‘Oh, Jason Heyward, or whoever, didn’t get the vaccination because’ … all right, that goes out there, and then tomorrow nobody gives a damn. … There’s still someone coming to a game who didn’t get vaccinated, sitting around other people who are vaccinated or not vaccinated, not wearing a mask.
“There’s still people getting in movies, still people going out, they’ll be at Lollapalooza, they’ll be at the freaking air show, not vaccinated, not wearing a mask, doing whatever they want to do.”
Heyward said the media doesn’t shine enough of a light on examples of people’s adverse reactions to the coronavirus vaccine, but he doesn’t consider himself an anti-vaxxer.
“The last time I got the flu shot — I got H1N1 and the regular flu shot — I was out of it for three days and I was younger,” he said. “And so for me, my reasoning for not getting the flu shot every year is it’s offered to us the same time every year: September, right before October.
“I’ve been playing on a lot of teams that have a chance of getting to the postseason. The last thing I want to do is feel like (expletive) in September — by choice. All right, if I get the flu, I’m pretty sure I know how to fight it.”
He said it also boils down to trust among teammates, “the amount of trust that we have.”
“We show up every day knowing we’re getting tested but also go home knowing what’s at stake if you go do something stupid,” he said. “This is the new normal. You go do something stupid, or you drink and drive, or do something wrong, you’re putting the team in jeopardy, you’re going to miss time. It’s no different with this.”
There’s also the public trust that players enjoy, reflected in Hoyer’s comments last week that “it’d be a shame if the fans decided to take all that equity and get rid of it.”
At least two Cubs fans who spoke to the Tribune on Sunday said players should get the vaccine because they travel for work and to set an example.
“I wouldn’t say it bothers me a great deal,” said Steven Sahr, 33, of Mesa, Ariz., “but players, people look to them and people listen to what they say. … And if you’re in that kind of position, I do think you have a moral obligation to be a leader on the field and off the field in your actions.
“It’s even more incumbent upon them to take that step and be an example and be vaccinated.”
Sahr said he received the Pfizer vaccine in February.
Anthony Bumbalow, 41, who was visiting from Houston, agreed players should get vaccinated, but he also agreed with many of Heyward’s points about the risk to fans.
“Mixed emotions,” he said about sitting among the crowd of 35,225 at Wrigley on Sunday. “Scared and excited at the same time. … I still don’t know if it’s safe.”