Stop giving vocal minority of anti-vaxx NBA players the space to be loud and wrong

·7-min read

Loud, proud and wrong took center stage on podiums across the NBA, with star players gladly spouting off misinformation and nonsense reminiscent of presidential campaigns of recent vintage.

It temporarily took the focus off the drama in Philadelphia as Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal and Andrew Wiggins took turns with eye-rolling statements that seemed inconsistent, incomplete and inconsiderate.

Irving and Wiggins, due to New York City and San Francisco mandates, will not be able to play home games if they aren’t vaccinated. Beal contracted COVID-19 in the past few months and thankfully recovered, but the experience only strengthened his resolve to remain unvaccinated, as Washington, D.C., has no such mandate in place.

The volume was so loud, you forget over 90% of contracted NBA players have received the COVID-19 vaccination — a higher number than the general population in the United States, but lower than the WNBA’s 99% rate.

The volume should be muted — by us.

As hospitals are overflowing through the states with mostly unvaccinated citizens, stretching thin the manpower, resources and morale of frontline healthcare workers, that rate shouldn’t be the one the NBA measures itself against.

Most of its players have done the right thing, especially in light of the league office and teams instituting mandates for their employees to be vaccinated to continue work. Hearing about the stars being so vociferous in their objections makes it feel as if most players are going against the grain when it’s the total opposite.

There isn’t a mandate from the players association. It’s easy to surmise the biggest names we know of and a few other big names we don’t probably have a lot to do with that.

And with it being a star’s league, the weight is heavily tilted that way to present a view that isn’t exactly true but one the NBA and NBPA must take seriously. The biggest voices are the ones who feel they have the currency — literally and figuratively — to speak up.

It can’t be a coincidence Irving is making $34 million, Beal $34 million and Wiggins $31 million this season.

Kryie Irving couldn't attend Nets media day in person on Monday because of
Kryie Irving couldn't attend Nets media day in person on Monday because of "health and safety protocols." If he doesn't get a COVID-19 vaccination, he would miss Brooklyn's home games. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

“Please respect my privacy,” Irving said over Zoom, as if contracting the virus would be a private matter instead of one that could conceivably kill another human being.

Irving couldn’t participate in the on-site media day festivities, and league sources believe Irving will wind up taking the vaccine, citing influence from his close friend and teammate Kevin Durant.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m putting any limits on the future of me being able to join the team,” Irving said later.

It’s almost irresistible to highlight the contrarians, when they should be ignored instead of ridiculed. The rebels without a cause seem to be infatuated only with the sounds of their own voices, so they can call the rest of the world sheep for taking a life-saving vaccine.

Anything that remotely looks like following of rules has become fodder for the anarchists who throw molotov cocktails into full buildings yet hide their hands when it’s time to be accountable.

“Back is definitely against the wall,” Wiggins told reporters at Warriors media day. “But I’m just going to keep fighting for what I believe. And whether it’s one thing or another, get a vaccination or not get a vaccination, who knows? I’m just going to keep fighting for what I believe and what I believe is right. What’s right to one person isn’t right to the other and vice versa.”

NBA players have been positioned as leaders in civic matters, and you can’t pick and choose what’s personal and what’s for the world in the midst of something like this. Irving can be lauded for all the good work he has done and his intentions but it doesn’t mean he should be blindly followed — or even listened to when he wants to speak.

“There’s an overload of information our youth keeps digesting, they go to Google and think there’s the answer. It’s confusing, and I give them that,” a head coach told Yahoo Sports. “Everything’s not a conspiracy or a setup. It’s not about 'I, I, I.’ What about the people around you?”

The coach said his team’s vaccination rate is around the league average and if presented with a scenario of an unvaccinated player coming to him, unsure of what to do, he said: “I’d tell him what I know. When we were young, the flu shot was coming out and we took that. And I’d ask, ‘How can I help you be safe and others around you be safe?’ I gotta trust you’ll do the right thing. But that’s a lot of trust.”

The graduates of YouTube University and the brilliant historians who vacillate between favored phrases “Tuskegee Experiment” to “Doing my own research” appear to have very little knowledge of either — it’s just used to shut up opposition, as if they’re picking up a beaker, a syringe and some goggles any time soon.

But in giving them the platform, we’re giving them what they want. They have access to the greatest doctors in the world and will consult them for anything from the common cold to a torn-up knee, but they have apparently discovered something all the world’s greatest scientists have missed.

The ballplayers who claim “the bloggers who’ve never picked up a basketball” are out of line for criticizing them are now doing the same tactic with science, except it truly is life or death.

Oh, the irony.

It’s hard to find a person who hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19, who doesn’t know someone who has fallen ill or died because of this merciless virus. It doesn’t discriminate, so it’s hard to fathom someone like Wiggins being able to look former teammate Karl-Anthony Towns in the face with his “I know more than you” smugness when Towns lost his mother and numerous relatives in the early days of the pandemic.

The excuses range across the board, from Beal making a claim centered on players who’ve experienced negative side effects from the vaccine to even downplaying his own COVID-19 experience, as if losing his sense of smell during his battle wasn’t a harsh enough punishment.

Giving them the runway is our mistake. The belief we can shame these men into doing the right thing for themselves or their teammates or their families is a fool’s errand. They’ve selected their corners and will come out swinging, even if the punches have no snap, no heat.

They can be hit with haymaker after haymaker of facts and evidence that cannot be disputed, but it often has no effect.

It should feel similar to an exercise we went through a handful of years ago, when someone took a microphone from anyone who offered it, flooding the market with dangerous rhetoric and rode that wave to the White House as opposed to being treated as illegitimate and discarded as a clown to the process.

We’ve been taught whenever a public person yells to a crowd, it must be documented and persevered for consumption, even if it’s to be mocked.

But as times change and people become more gullible to bad information, the volume should be turned down on those yelling into the mic. Even if minds can’t be changed, damage can be mitigated.