The debate occurring in the NBA is a microcosm of the greater societal debate around vaccines and the workplace. Although the NBA has made vaccines mandatory for employees of the league, it has been impossible to get 100% of the players themselves vaccinated. That’s because the players are represented by the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), which has a considerable amount of leverage, and the association has put its foot down against mandatory vaccinations.
Still, some 90% of players have been vaccinated, which means that there are only roughly 40 players who have opted not to get the vaccine. For many players, this will come at a high personal and team cost. For example, Andrew Wiggins, a player for the Golden State Warriors, has chosen not to get vaccinated. But the Warriors play in San Francisco, a city that now requires vaccines to attend indoor entertainment and sporting events. The city even withdrew the possibility for medical and religious exemptions to the rule. Therefore, Wiggins will not be allowed to attend or play in home games. This will mean a considerable loss of income, and it will likely frustrate Wiggins’ teammates as well. Still, when discussing the topic with reporters, Wiggins believes in his stance and does not appear to want to change it.
Players Above Others
Let’s face it: the fact that players do not have to get vaccinated, and employees do, is patently unfair. The rules do not apply to them because they are millionaires with influence. This is how most societies work, including American society, so while the situation is frustrating, it should come as no surprise. But one confusing element of the entire situation is the NBPA’s opposition to any vaccinate mandate from the league. Yet, that opposition is also quite American; Americans do not like being bossed around, and unions are quick to protect their own.
According to Rolling Stone, many of the vaccine holdouts throughout the league are people who are simply vaccine-hesitant. That is, they have doubts, but in the end, they are not vehemently opposed to getting a vaccine. But the Vice President of the NBPA is Kyrie Irving, a player known for embracing conspiracy theories (including, famously, a theory that posits that the earth is flat). In addition to following accounts and liking Instagram posts that are spreading bizarre misinformation about microchips in the vaccines, he apparently has been encouraging other players to hold out on getting the vaccine.
Irving’s attitude is also quintessentially American. Despite his lack of education and science background, he is confidently incorrect about his beliefs that he has no issue causing problems for countless others. His refusal to get vaccinated puts every single person he comes into contact with at greater risk of contracting a breakthrough COVID case. For many employees of the NBA, even if they are not basketball superstars, they still have kids at home who are too young to get vaccinated, or they might have family members with compromised immune systems. Americans across the country are facing some version of the same issue: because of a few belligerently selfish co-workers, they might have to put their families at risk.