Bryce Harper’s vaccination status, MLB mandate debated on CNN

Apr 10, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; MLB Network broadcaster Bob Costas answers questions during an interview prior to the game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; MLB Network broadcaster Bob Costas answers questions during an interview prior to the game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports /
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Veteran sportscaster Bob Costas thinks MLB could be discussing vaccine mandates during the lockout and CBA negotiations

Is Bryce Harper vaccinated?

The question arose on the CNN Tonight podcast, in an episode hosted by Michael Smerconish with veteran sportscaster Bob Costas as his guest.

Costas, who has spent decades with NBC Sports, MLB Network, and the Olympics, discussed the latest COVID outbreak in the sports world, which has impacted the NBA, NHL, and NFL. MLB, currently in its offseason and in its ninth work stoppage in its history, has yet to be affected.

At the end of Wednesday’s episode, Smerconish asked Costas about MLB’s “big-picture view” in the face of the new Omicron variant.

"“I think what may be coming down the line, baseball has a blank canvas now when it comes to its Collective Bargaining Agreement. So, I think what I’m about to say could be on the table in these negotiations.I spoke recently with Michelle Roberts, who’s the head of the NBA Players Association, and DeMaurice Smith, who has the similar position – the same position – with the NFL. And both of them said that that they would be willing at least to consider across-the-board vaccine mandates for their membership. They certainly have encouraged their membership to be vaccinated, and well over 90% are now vaccinated.BUT if you had – and if baseball was willing to consider this as well – if you had 100% vaccinations and an understanding that as boosters become available, and as the consensus of medical opinion is that boosters are needed, it would be very easy for teams and leagues to administer that. It would be much different than people lining up for five hours outside a drugstore. You’d come to the facility, it’s your turn to get boosted, so then if you were able to say that everyone, all the players, and all the people around them, staff, have been protected to the fullest extent that’s humanly possible, I think you could then reasonably say – and even the most pro-vax people would agree, I would hope – you could reasonably say that if a player who’s fully vaxxed and boosted, a young, healthy, fit player tests positive but is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms, that guy would be allowed to continue to play.I think ultimately, that’s the way forward. Otherwise, you’re gonna have this hodgepodge situation every season with every league, until the virus is completely gone. And the virus may wind up, to one extent or the other, endemic.”"

To this sermon, Smerconish, a Phillies fan from Bucks County, PA, replied,

"“I’m thinking of two things as you say that: Bryce Harper, I wonder how that would go over with certain high-profile players. You get the final word.”"

Costas laughed and replied,

"“Well, I know that pops into your head because he’s a Phillie and that’s your team. Yeah, there will be some who will be resistant. You’re a lawyer, I’m not, and sports law is a specific area, so there might be some players already under contract who would say, ‘I’m not gonna do it,’ and then you might have some litigation.But going forward, I would think that that would be a condition of employment. Once new contracts are signed, or rookies come into a league, that would probably be a condition of employment.”"

Harper famously signed a 13-year contract valued at $330M with the Phillies ahead of the 2019 season. There is no explicit evidence that he is vaccinated or unvaccinated. However, in the spring of 2020, he and his wife donated $500,000 to COVID relief in Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Phillies organization spent the 2021 season begging their players to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski is vaccinated, as is field manager Joe Girardi. However, for the majority of the baseball season, the Phillies were one of only six teams who hadn’t reached the 85% threshold that would allow them to lower their restrictions and live a more normal life.

In fact, for a while, the Phillies struggled to reach 50% vaccination, and the issue seriously impacted on their on-field product, as several players missed significant time, including third baseman Alec Bohm and starting pitcher Aaron Nola. Harper was not among the Phillies players sidelined by the virus.

As many people in and out of the sports world have stressed, being vaccinated is a personal choice. However, personal choices often have public consequences. MLB couldn’t mandate vaccinations before, but with the new variant wreaking havoc on the other leagues in the midst of their CBA negotiations, the issue has to be staring them in the face.

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