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Davis: NBA players refusing COVID-19 vaccine ahead of season

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With the start of another NBA season in the midst of a global pandemic, all eyes have shifted to the players. Teams held their media days last week, giving players the opportunity to answer the media’s questions about anything and everything with the vaccine question stealing the spotlight. Roughly 90% of NBA players are vaccinated as training camp approaches, according to reports, but tensions are growing between front offices and players who refuse them.

In Brooklyn and San Francisco, where mandates are in place, NBA superstar Kyrie Irving (Nets) remains unvaccinated. Irving was unable to attend Brooklyn’s media day last week because it was held at the Barclays Center. Instead, he joined via a Zoom call from his home, and he asked for privacy. Should Kyrie be unable to participate in home games, he would lose roughly $380,000 per game, which would become more than $15 million if he doesn’t get vaccinated at any point this season. It should be noted that Irving has been practicing with the Nets, who opted to hold their training camp in San Diego where a vaccination isn’t mandated in public places.

The debate over vaccine mandates in the NBA is starting to run into the larger political battle about them. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a well-known Ohio Republican, tweeted: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse, teacher, factory worker, or NBA player. You shouldn’t be forced to get the #COVID19 vaccine. Period.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted his support for several NBA players who reportedly are not vaccinated, stating, “I’m standing with the NBA players and anyone who believes we should respect medical privacy and individual freedom.”

The hard take here is like with anything else in the private business world if you don’t want to get the vaccine you don’t have to, but you also have the right to not play in the NBA. Your employer has the right to mandate vaccinations if they see fit and you have the ability to say no. A vaccine mandate for NBA players would need an agreement with the Players Association, which likely won’t happen, seeing the NBA mandated vaccinations for all team personnel who work near the court, as well as referees, but it declined to require players to get the shot amid uproar from the players union.

The Biden administration is currently working on a policy that will require all private employers with more than 100 workers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or frequent testing in an effort to boost the nation’s vaccination rate. The requirement won’t change much for the NBA, which already requires regular testing for unvaccinated players.

With the season beginning Oct. 19, it will be interesting to see if the players facing the possibility of not playing will get vaccinated or pass on the vaccine. NBA COVID-19 protocols for this season include an especially lengthy warning of how much money is at stake from “exposure and corresponding interruptions” as a result of behavior off the court. Will Kyrie get vaccinated and be available Oct. 24 in the Nets home opener? We will see.

Devon Davis is a public policy specialist at Bose Public Affairs Group. Contact him at ddavis@bosepublicaffairs.com.

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