Sports

The NBA needs to follow the WNBA’s lead on vaccination rates

Russell Westbrook shoots around in a face mask.
Photo: Getty Images

As NBA training camps open next week, while most of the sports world is focused on college football and the NFL, the leading story around the league has centered on the drama in Philadelphia with Ben Simmons. However, there’s something else people should still be discussing — COVID-19.

Earlier this month, it was reported that NBA players won’t be required to get vaccinated for the upcoming season. It feels like Adam Silver and the league are leaving it up to players to adhere to the rules individual states have in play, or they’ll have to comply with the rules that their teams have mandated for fans and personnel upon returning to arenas.

However, this decision to mandate, or not to mandate, wouldn’t even be a discussion if the league had a vaccination rate like the WNBA. The ladies are voluntarily doing what needs to be done, as it’s been reported that 99 percent of that league’s players have been vaccinated. The figure is believed to be around 85 percent for the NBA, according to a report from ESPN, and the league is still negotiating with the Players Association on how they’re going to handle things. Rumors are swirling that the union is against a vaccination mandate — which is stupid and selfish.

Oh, and by the way, there is a vaccine mandate for referees and most of the league’s staff, but not the largest part of the league’s workforce.

As I said: stupid.

So far, there have only been a few positive tests this season in the WNBA. Seattle’s Katie Lou Samuelson tested positive in July, keeping her out of competing in the inaugural 3×3 basketball competition in the Olympics. And earlier this month, Dallas’ Isabelle Harrison and Las Vegas’ Liz Cambage also had positive tests. All three women are fully vaccinated.

From the racial justice movement from 2020 to vaccinations, the WNBA has been on the right side of history every time important issues arise.

“What I said to Cathy was, ‘You’ve got to let me do this,’” Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBPA, told WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, according to Sports Illustrated. “We, PA staff, we knew we had to do this. We knew that it had to come purely from the players association, because we are the players, we report to them, and they trust us, period, the end.”

Jackson then added. “If Black Lives Matter is what we’re about, then in the public health space, this is really big for Black and brown communities. We better be informed, and we better be ready to show up.”

During the summer of 2020, we watched as both the NBA and WNBA pulled off the unthinkable by playing in the bubble without any hiccups or positive tests in a COVID-ravaged state like Florida, in a moment in which cases were rapidly rising, leading to paralyzing mortality rates. A lot has happened over the last two years, so it may be easy to forget how bad some parts of last season were in the NBA as teams were being rocked by COVID, and players were mentally and physically exhausting by playing in a compressed season with countless restrictions that confined them during their downtime.

As the 2021-2022 season is upon us, it feels as if the NBA is “this close” to getting back to some kind of normal. However, the player’s refusal to follow the WNBA’s lead could hinder that at some point. The male ego is a very fragile thing — it could be the only reason behind this — and the exhausting narrative of “I just need more information” regarding a life-saving vaccine isn’t a justifiable excuse anymore, if it ever was.

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