Every sports league has had to find ways to deal with trying to run professional sports in the middle of global pandemic. Concessions have been made, plans altered — all in service of trying to keep games going while ensuring players and fans are protected. Intelligence prevailed when the the NFL and NFLPA eventually found common ground on a way to proceed in 2021. Now the NBA is in the midst of its own negotiations, and the league is on the verge of collapse because of it.
There is no point trying to mince words on the issue or dance around what’s happening. NBAPA vice president Kyrie Irving, who has always had a penchant for conspiracy theories, is now in a position of power in helping decide the biggest health issue the league has ever faced. While an estimated 90 percent of the league has been vaccinated, a loud, anti-vaxx cabal is using the NBA/NBAPA negotiations as a soap box to peddle their misinformation, and nobody is stepping in to stop it.
On August 7 an NBAPA meeting was held to discuss the league’s desire to have players reach 100 percent vaccination by the start of the NBA season. It was an important topic the union needed to discuss, but was met with a widespread unwillingness to even talk about the issue. According to a piece by Matt Sullivan in Rolling Stone, while the majority of NBA players who have not yet been vaccinated are guided by misplaced skepticism, a small, but vocal minority of anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists are railroading proceedings by killing conversations.
As NBA media days started this week, Irving was among those dancing around the topic of vaccination when asked directly is simply an effort to preserve his public image. Instead of accepting the damage he’s doing, Irving is touting the “personal choice” line, which has been repeated ad nauseam by vaccine skeptics as justification not to get the jab. Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that choosing not to be vaccinated is a societal choice, not a personal one — because of the myriad ways it impacts those around us.
Meanwhile Bradley Beal is out here peddling the notion that NBA players are getting sick from the vaccine, despite there being absolutely zero evidence of that being the case.
Bradley Beal on his bout with COVID-19, which cost him the Olympics: “I didn’t get sick at all. I lost my smell. That’s it.”
Beal adds that no one will talk about adverse reactions to the vaccine and how it impacts player health. No NBA player has missed time due to the vaccine.
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) September 27, 2021
On the plus side, Beal can’t smell his own bullshit.
A recent tactic by the anti-vaxx contingent has been to try and seek religious exemption as a means to avoid getting vaccinated. Andrew Wiggins was denied vaccine exemption from the NBA on Friday, meaning he needs to either comply with orders mandated by the San Francisco Department of Health, or not play in any home games this season.
A similar provision in New York City will prevent Irving from playing in Brooklyn this season, and there’s no evidence he plans to get the shot.
Jonathan Isaac of the Magic, one of the players who chose to stand during the national anthem inside the NBA bubble and not side with players supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, is also vehemently against vaccination, citing his religious beliefs as a key factor. He told Rolling Stone:
“If you are vaccinated, in other places you still have to wear the mask regardless. It’s like, ‘OK, then what is the mask necessarily for?’” Isaac continues. “And if Kyrie says that from his position of his executive power in the NBPA, then kudos to him.”
Let’s be abundantly clear: Wearing masks is not some huge hidden secret warranting discussion. This is not Scooby and the gang zooming around in the Mystery Machine to solve another groovy mystery. The topic of masks has been discussed, again, and again, and again since the pandemic began. Saluting someone for “asking the tough questions” is simply acknowledging that you have done ZERO research on the topic.
- Vaccinated individuals can still spread Covid
- The more Covid spreads the greater chance of mutation into more harmful variants that vaccines may not offer protection against
- Children who can’t be vaccinated and those who are immunocompromised deserve consideration and care, making masks the bare minimum society can do to help protect them
Isaac’s choice is to ignore science and put his faith in God. He has every right to do that. That right does not extend to allow him to play in the NBA with any impact on his career. Furthermore, invoking religion as a defense is a particularly insidious rhetorical technique that positions religion and science is oppositional forces. This is something that particularly frustrated Enes Kanter, who is a devout Muslim and also in favor of players being forced to be vaccinated.
“If a guy’s not getting vaccinated because of his religion, I feel like we are in a time where the religion and science has to go to together,” he tells RS. “I’ve talked to a lot of religious guys — I’m like: ‘It saves people’s lives, so what is more important than that?’”
Kanter plays for the Celtics, a franchise intimately aware of the risks of Covid. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, a 23-year-old with no prior health conditions, is still experiencing “long Covid” symptoms requiring him to use an inhaler before games, this despite contracting the virus in January of 2021.
Karl-Anthony Towns, another healthy, elite athlete who already had to deal with the tragedy of losing his mother to the virus, told Sports Illustrated that he lost 50 pounds after contracting Covid himself. Now players like Towns and Tatum, ravaged by the virus, are forced to sit back while decisions are being made by the least-knowledgeable people.
The fight is taking front stage in the NBA, but the concern is that the sensible voices are not the loudest. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is doing his part, explaining why it’s so critical that current superstars lead the charge to combat the public health crisis.
“Which is why it’s so shocking and disappointing to see so many people, especially people of color, treat the vaccination like it’s just a matter of personal preference, like ordering no onions on your burger at a drive-thru. While I can understand the vaccine hesitancy of those who have been historically marginalized and even abused by the health care system, enough scientific documentation has been given to the public to set that past behind us for now. Yes, we should never forget. Those experiences should sharpen our critical thinking to not accept things blindly. But it doesn’t mean we reject things blindly. The drowning man doesn’t ask if a racist made the life preserver keeping him afloat, only that it works to save his life.”
Kareem went on to say that “those who claim they need to do “more research” are simply announcing they have done no research.” To take this a step further, I would add that people who want to do “more research” are specifically waiting for something, anything to support their biases, regardless of whether it’s intelligent or not.
That’s how we reach the point where numerous vetted, supported medical journals are thrown out in favor of one, which has not been corroborated, but supports an opposing view. It’s how hundreds of millions of vaccinated individuals who have had zero complications are ignored in favor of one person saying their cousin’s best friend’s daughter’s mail carrier died after getting the vaccine. It’s how Dr. Fauci and dozens of other respected virologists are branded as “liars.”
There is no doubt this is a supremely difficult situation. It is not right to ignore the concerns of people of color when they talk about trusting a government, which for generations has established a pattern of abhorrant behavior designed to put their needs last. However, there has to be an intelligent way to broach this topic that doesn’t involve outwardly rejecting any vaccine mandate, while siding with beyond ludicrous conspiracy theories. We can have the discussions, like Kareem is trying to, where we address this distrust, but also champion saving lives.
Unfortunately as it stands it’s a question of whose voice is the loudest, and sensible people like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jayson Tatum, Karl-Anthony Towns and Enes Kanter are being drowned out by uninformed, unintelligent stupidity. The NBA and the NBAPA need to do more, and do better — and not accept that inaction is the path forward.