As much as the NBA and the NBAPA (Players Union) have pointed out that the vaccination rate among players is 90%, which is more than the general population, the story of the day is the positions Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal have taken in regard to the COVID-19 vaccine. As public personas with a platform, one they use on a regular basis, these players also have a responsibility about how they use that platform when it comes to public health. With great power comes great responsibility, and it seems they haven't accepted that responsibility.
The double standard they display is revealed in the fact that Beal and Irving avoid explaining their reasons to refuse the vaccine or the absurd statements they've made. For instance, Beal implying the vaccine doesn't work because vaccinated people are "still getting COVID?" Beal would later try to clarify his statement, saying he's not saying people shouldn't get the vaccine, and that he won't elaborate his skepticism because it's personal. Kyrie also refused to explain his reasons.
That intentional ambivalence, a practice of "just asking questions" and not explaining your reasoning, is harmful to public health. If they want to keep it private, that's their right - but then keep it private. Yet, when asked to clarify, Kyrie and Beal play the privacy card. Skepticism is fine, but as someone who benefited greatly from being popular, Irving and Beal are responsible for being transparent and clear once they start speaking on a subject. That's why Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke up about NBA players implying the vaccine is dangerous.
"Well, you know, you tell them that it’s untrue. The fact is these are people, they’re not stupid people. And yet, they are somehow or other, been convinced of things that are just not factual. I mean, you look at the data. The data are overwhelming that these are highly effective and safe. And if you look at the track record of vaccines in general, what they’ve done for society and the benefit/risk ratio overwhelmingly weighs in favor of the benefit. And it’s just factual. I mean, it’s, sometimes it’s inexplicable that people can look at data and just say it doesn't exist. I mean, it does."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, MediaITE
Fauci was diplomatic - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was not. In a must-read story by Matt Sullivan on Rolling Stone, the NBA legend called out players for their lack of responsibility, pointing out that CDC data shows Black Americans continue to get vaccinated at a slower rate than any other race or ethnicity. Kareem thinks it's time for NBA players to step up.
“They are failing to live up to the responsibilities that come with celebrity. Athletes are under no obligation to be spokespersons for the government, but this is a matter of public health. By not encouraging their people to get the vaccine, they’re contributing to these deaths. I’m also concerned about how this perpetuates the stereotype of dumb jocks who are unable to look at verified scientific evidence and reach a rational conclusion.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rolling Stone
Abdul-Jabbar suggested the league should make the vaccine mandatory, and remove every team employee that refuses to get the vaccine - including players. Sullivan's article went into detail describing how the NBA caved on many requests from the unvaccinated 10%, from mask mandates to testing on off days. Players who were gladly partying during the summertime, risking exposure to the virus, are suddenly scared of the effects the vaccine would have on them. Those double standards are starting to cause frustration among their vaccinated teammates, and those aren't the only double standards being talked about.
"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?"
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rolling Stone
Kyrie, Beal, Wiggins, and others will continue to get pressure to explain their decision. As public personas, they have a responsibility to explain their reasons to the public, and as players, they have a responsibility to do the same to their teammates. This will become a locker room issue - as much as players toed the party line on media day, the topic will wear people down.
For now, the problem is mostly external in the form of "annoying" media asking questions. Soon, it will become internal, and that's when the real trouble will start.
The opinions expressed within this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website.