LeBron James' Covid vaccination ploy-out is bad news for the NBA

It doesn't matter what NBA superstars have to say. The media attention they get for opposing a vaccine mandate is justifiable.

LeBron James' Covid vaccination ploy-out is bad news for the NBA

According to the league, ninety-five per cent of NBA players have been vaccinated. This is a higher rate that even primary health care workers. The numbers for the NBA are excellent. The truth about the NBA’s high vaccination rate should be heard from the tops amid a flood of media attention and scrutiny that focuses on the wrong 5 percent. We shouldn't overlook the importance of stars like Kyrie Irving or Bradley Beal, who argue for the "right" not to be vaccinated. This would put at risk their family members and teammates as well as all front office workers involved in pro sports. LeBron James, a vaccinated star, has supported their position.

They are clearly very wrongheaded in this regard, I believe. The point is not to highlight the denial of community solidarity and public health that NBA anti-vaxxers represent. It is not enough to mention that the same people who exhorted them or told them "shut down and dribble," when they stood up against racist police violence last season are now singing their praises. Even though this is a small group of NBA players that are not vaxxed, their words matter and they are worthy of the media's attention.

These athletes are leaders. They have built cultural and media capital in the places they play as well as across the country. After George Floyd was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer, Beal led protests in Washington. Irving was a tireless supporter of those who have been affected by racism as well as Indigenous peoples. Their voices are heard because they are leaders. It is easy to be depressed that they have this platform in today's celebrity-soaked culture. It doesn't mean it isn't there. While you can say they aren’t “role models,” as Charles Barkley did 30 years ago, that’s not the same thing as Irving choosing to believe (perhaps in jest) that the Earth is flat. It doesn't make it true.

The athletes have the right to free speech. When they sign contracts for sports, they don't give up their right to free speech. Beal, Irving, and James believe this, so they shouldn't be afraid to express it. Freedom of speech shouldn't mean that you can't have a debate about what your words are. People can push back against the small group of NBA anti-vaxxers, as well as their larger hooping comrades.

Because a communicable disease is everyone's business, they cannot claim that they want to be vaccine-free is "none [our] business". They shouldn't be surprised if people criticize them if they try to define "freedom" as a hyper individual liberty to impede on others' freedom not to get sick.

James, who was vaccinated, made the most disappointing statement. He said that "We're not talking about individual bodies." We are not referring to racism, police brutality or political issues. It's about people's well-being and bodies. Personally, I don't feel the need to get involved in other people's lives and livelihoods.

This has been made a political issue by people like Cruz, the Republican senator of Texas. It even has a connection to racism and police authority. Take a look at the disparities in Covid-19 deaths and cases. It's not only about vaccines. It also concerns air quality in schools, nutrition, and access to healthcare.

James should examine the power of police and the way they bully their members to prevent them from getting vaccinated. Then ask yourself why he supports the goals of those who have spent the past decade attacking his politics and his policies. James is also abdicating the leadership he sought over the past decade. The thing about leadership is that people expect you to lead when there's a crisis. Jemele Hill said that last week was a great week for being loud and wrong. Players are free to use the new social justice platform in any way they like. The public can respond to players who advocate for positions that are against the platform's creators.

Updated Date: 06 October 2021, 14:58

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