By Ken Reed

NBA training camps are about to open and 50 to 60 players have yet to receive a single Covid vaccine dose. That’s an issue NBA executives and coaches were hoping to avoid.

This summer, league officials proposed a mandate requiring all players be vaccinated against Covid in order to participate this season. The NBA players union said that was a “non-starter” and the league caved.

The anti-vaxxers have a variety of reasons for not getting a jab in the arm, ranging from anxiety about getting a shot or two, to religious reasons, to wanting to exercise their freedoms, to bizarre conspiracy theories they’ve bought into.

The Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving, who serves as vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, is following — and liking — a conspiracy theory on Instagram that claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines as part of a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.” This Moderna microchip misinformation story has spread across the league, according to multiple sources in, or near, the NBA.

If this is the type of “leadership” NBA players are getting, it’s no wonder the league remains far from being fully vaccinated.

The NBA denied a religious-exemption request from the Golden State Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins this past week. This is problematic for Wiggins and the Warriors as the city of San Francisco is requiring that everyone entering large indoor gatherings — like Warriors games at the Chase Center — must be fully vaccinated. In effect, Wiggins would have to miss half of the Warriors’ games this season, if he sticks to his current position. The question is would the Warriors even want him for road games only? I’m sure voluntarily missing half the team’s games would do wonders for team chemistry and continuity.

A number of NBA players are playing the religious exemption card despite major denominations being essentially unanimous in their support of Covid vaccines, according to a New York Times report.

Enes Kanter, a veteran center for the Boston Celtics, and a devout Muslim, doesn’t understand players avoiding the vaccine on religious grounds.

“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 together,” Kanter told Rolling Stone magazine. “I’ve talked to a lot of religious guys — I’m like: ‘It saves people’s lives, so what is more important than that?’”

NBA all-time great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has even stronger feelings than Kanter’s when it comes to anti-vaxxers.

“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells Rolling Stone.

“There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research. What I find especially disingenuous about the vaccine deniers is their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet, if their child was sick or they themselves needed emergency medical treatment, how quickly would they do exactly what those same experts told them to do?”

In terms of players simply exercising their “freedom” to do whatever they want went it comes to Covid protocols, including masking and vaccinations, it must be remembered that freedoms of behavior in the United States have always been balanced with what’s best for the common good. That’s why we have traffic lights, speed limits, laws against polluting water, and no smoking areas in public places, among other things.

Freedom of belief is different than freedom of behavior.

This is a public health issue, above all else. More than 700,000 Americans have died from Covid. A significant percentage of those deaths likely could have been avoided if the vast majority of Americans would have become fully vaccinated as soon as the vaccines became available on a large scale basis. Others survived Covid but are now “long-haulers,” having to deal with long-term, Covid-based, health issues. Many of those cases could also have been avoided. But people like Wiggins and Irving don’t seem to understand how their refusal to get vaccinated puts teammates, coaches and fans at risk. They also don’t seem to understand that their refusal to get jabbed prolongs the pandemic, and that means prolonging things like quarantines, masking, Covid tests, physical separation, etc. All things that everyone, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers alike, would love to see go away.

Basketball, like life, is a team game. Anti-vaxxers — whether elite hoopsters or everyday Joes and JoAnns — don’t seem to grasp that. They are choosing to be selfish in a team environment and putting their opinions above the health of others.

To finally get a handle on this pandemic, we need a lot more “we” people than “me” people in this country.

And the NBA, despite positioning themselves as one of the most progressive and forward-thinking organizations in the country, is apparently no different than the rest of society.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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