Nobody in sports repeats their mistakes quite like the NHL, the league that lost the entire 2004-05 season to a lockout, then came back in 2012 and had another lockout that cost half a season, all after also having half the 1994-95 season wiped out by a lockout.
You might think that getting horrendous publicity and an Alberta provincial inquiry into skipping to the front of the line for vaccines during a pandemic would be the one mistake that even the NHL couldn’t make again.
You would be wrong.
Longtime hockey reporter John Shannon tweeted on Thursday, “Source confirms that the NHL is planning the private purchase of a COVID vaccine for all constituents involved in the potential upcoming season.”
This would be, somehow, even worse than 2009, when the Calgary Flames and their families got vaccinated for the H1N1 flu at a special private clinic, while the hoi polloi of Alberta waited in long lines and often were turned away due to short supplies. That incident wasn’t entirely the Flames’ fault: in the ensuing Alberta inquest, team doctor Jim Thorne said he had expressed concerns about the Flames players, given their celebrity status, showing up to the vaccine lines and the crowd control issues that could result from their appearance. Thorne testified it was then Alberta Health Services that offered the special treatment. Of course, the Flames still accepted it, including Thorne getting a shot himself. A senior staff member at Alberta Health Services was fired over the incident.
What’s wild about reading about that incident from 11 years ago and the 2013 testimony about it is how much rings completely true now.
Thorne said a pandemic was a big concern for the NHL and its teams in 2009. He suggested that while pro athletes can be considered some of the most medically fit people in society, hockey players have close contact with one another, and there was a fear the flu may take hold and spread rapidly.
“The NHL was planning for it,” Thorne said. “They were fearful that they would lose the bulks of their teams and games would be cancelled, travel across borders could be cancelled — there were all sorts of concerns.”
In the days before the team shots, Thorne said, the Flames had played the Edmonton Oilers and two Oilers were in the game despite having flu-like symptoms.
We saw exactly that in March, when the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche both went into early COVID-19 hotspot San Jose and left with outbreaks.
So, yes, it makes sense that the NHL, which successfully avoided coronavirus with its Toronto and Edmonton hub city bubbles in the summer, would want to get vaccines for everybody involved before taking the ice in a non-bubble schedule. If anyone wonders about communicable diseases and hockey, remember that there’s a vaccine for mumps, and the league still had outbreaks in 2014 (we’re all still haunted by Sidney Crosby’s face) and 2017.
The correct answer, however, is not giving the NHL the vaccine in an expedited fashion so they can play as much hockey as possible this winter. It should be obvious, that what should happen is that PEOPLE WHO ARE AT HIGHER RISK OF DYING FROM CORONAVIRUS GET THE VACCINE FIRST.
It should be obvious. But to the NHL, nothing ever is, even when they’ve already blown something so obvious before.
UPDATE, 8:20 PM: Shannon offered a “clarification” that the league is only going to try to get its own batch of vaccines “when and if it’s available for private purchase,” which it isn’t and shouldn’t be, and why would they think that it would be before their season starts?
Shannon continued, “The league also is adamant they would not jump the line to do so.”
If that all sounds like the NHL saw the reaction to Shannon’s initial reporting, collectively crapped its pants, and rushed back to him saying “no, no, didn’t mean it,” well… that’s what it all sounds like.