John Krull

The saga of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz demonstrates just how confusing it is to be a professional football player or fan these days.

Wentz had to go into quarantine a few days ago as part of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. Wentz is not vaccinated. He has been adamant in his refusal to get the COVID vaccine.

His move onto the quarantine list provoked controversy.

Several commentators — most notably Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star — all but called for the Colts to send Wentz packing. If the quarterback wasn’t going to do what was best for the team and community, the argument ran, Wentz should go.

But that provoked a strong pushback from many football fans. They argued that the decision to get the vaccine should be Wentz’s alone.

His body, his choice.

This is where things get puzzling.

Many of the same people who contended that Wentz had a right to refuse to get the COVID vaccine — even if it meant putting his teammates and others at risk — were the same ones who said NFL players lose their First Amendment rights when they put on their uniforms.

They don’t want Carson Wentz run out of town because he refuses to take a common-sense health precaution, but they were comfortable with having Colin Kaepernick blackballed out of the league because he opted to take a knee rather than stand for the national anthem.

In that case, it wasn’t Kaepernick’s body, Kaepernick’s choice.

No, it was Kaepernick’s body, their choice.

They chased him not just out of town but out of football.

Here’s where it gets even more confusing.

Kaepernick’s actions had nothing to do with his performance on the field. There is no evidence that he shirked any of the responsibilities of a professional athlete. He trained hard, stayed in shape, followed doctors’ orders, did rehab when necessary and preserved his body so he could compete at an elite level.

This, after all, is what a professional athlete is paid to do — what makes a professional athlete a professional athlete.

That’s what Wentz is refusing to do.

He’s arguing, in effect, that his political views should override what amounts to a contractual obligation to keep himself healthy and available to compete at a top level.

And he’s got people supporting him on this.

How would they feel, I wonder, if he showed up to training camp 50 pounds overweight? If he refused to hit the weight room? Do wind sprints or any other form of conditioning?

After all, if it’s his body, his choice, he ought to be able to wreck it if he wants to, right?

But it’s not just his body he’s making the choice for.

Several of Wentz’s teammates went into quarantine when he did. There’s no evidence Wentz was the one who exposed them to the virus, but that’s been the most damning challenge this pandemic has presented.

Because COVID is transmitted by air, we’re all at the mercy of those who choose not to wear masks.

Or get vaccines.

The weakest link determines the strength and durability of the entire chain.

The truth is that Carson Wentz does have a choice.

He can do what is necessary to play football at the highest level — which is what he is paid a tremendous sum of money to do — and preserve his health, as well as that of his teammates.

Or he can find another way to make a living.

If he doesn’t like either of those options, there is another thing he can do.

He can protest this hard reality by taking a knee during the national anthem.

That ought to go over well with his fan base.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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