Numerous high-profile NBA players have chosen to not take the coronavirus vaccine, including Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors. Wiggins and Irving play for teams in the District of Columbia and California which both have vaccine mandates.
Wiggins recently chose to get vaccinated. Irving was recently told he cannot play any games anywhere until vaccinated. Unvaccinated players, Irving specifically, have faced criticism and they shouldn’t necessarily be let off the hook.
As with social justice initiatives, NBA players are a step or so behind the WNBA, whose rate of vaccination was 99 percent — the most of any professional sports league. Black women lead the way again. But to be fair, the NBA’s vaccination rate is 95 percent. While the vaccine hesitancy is understandable, particularly amongst Black people, and the vaccine doesn’t prevent one from contracting covid-19, it can and does prevent hospitalization.
Apart from passing the virus on to others, family members and other loved ones may be dependent on the salary of a healthy working adult. Unlike NBA players, frontline workers — many of whom are Black — don’t have the luxury of not working. Irving claims to want to be a voice for those who lost their jobs due to vaccine mandates. How about those who contracted covid because they had to work, and lost their jobs in the process … who heard their voices?
Again, it’s easy to criticize players of this stance. Although role models, they’re low-hanging fruit. Irving particularly is a lightning rod for anti-Black athlete sentiment due to his views, specifically his view on the earth being flat.
I’ve personally heard white sports journalists and pundits call Irving stupid or not smart for that and for refusing to take the covid-19 vaccine. I’ve heard Black sports pundits attempt to explain his non-conventional nature as Irving has his attention on matters other than basketball … as though breathing, sleeping, and eating work is healthy. Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have proven that not to be the case.
Irving and others are open season for criticism, but they’re not the likes of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Certainly, unvaccinated players take their lives into their own hands and potentially put the lives of others at risk.
But DeSantis and Abbott are public officials.
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Their policy decisions put millions at risk in their states, including children. While some school districts have agreed to defy both governors, they face backlash from parents as well as retaliation from the governors.
Spreading ignorance is dangerous; such is the reason this pandemic continues in the U.S. but facilitating and executing public policy that puts the public in danger because of political motivations, is evil. At worst, some NBA players appear ignorant as opposed to evil. Folks like DeSantis and Abbott appear evil.
Irving and others aren’t refusing to enforce mask mandates. They aren’t refusing to promote vaccine adoption, or refusing to allow the teaching a non-whitewashed version of American history. Nor are they empowering police officers to harm people who protest peaceably. DeSantis and Abbott are.
Kyrie Irving and other NBA players refusing to take the vaccine have the resources, at the very least, to attempt to mitigate the damage of contracting the coronavirus. However, everyone does not have the same resources and abilities to do the same. What they have is a vaccine to help do that.
I encourage the players to utilize the same resource and I encourage others to aim their vitriol where it’s actually deserved.
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .