How should sports leagues deal with unvaccinated players?
âThe 360â shows you various perspectives on the main stories and debates of the day.
What is happening
The question of how to treat employees who will not receive the COVID-19 vaccine is a question every business in the United States has had to answer. Professional sports leagues are no different.
The problem came to a head this week on NBA preseason media day, when a handful of prominent players spoke out against vaccines, or at least refused to disclose their vaccination status. “I’d love to keep this private,” said Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who was interviewed on Zoom because New York City requires proof of vaccination for large group activities. All-NBA shooting guard Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards was more blunt, defying reporters with specious claims about the effectiveness of the vaccines.
The scenes echoed circumstances that other major sports leagues, such as the NFL, NHL and MLB, have had to contend with. Each of those leagues said 90% or more of their players are fully vaccinated, well above the rate for Americans eligible. The WNBA is leading the way with a 99 percent vaccination rate. But the power that individual athletes have, both over game outcomes and the income they generate, increases the stakes of having even a small minority of unvaccinated players.
This reality has led to a mishmash of rules in the world of sports. Most leagues have required staff like coaches, coaches and referees to be vaccinated, but none of these mandates applied to players. Canada recently issued a “national interest exemption” to allow unvaccinated NBA players to play in Toronto without having to comply with travel restrictions that apply to the general public. NHL players, on the other hand, will not benefit from a similar exemption. Local rules in New York and San Francisco could mean that unvaccinated players from local teams, including Irving, will have to abstain from all home games – but these rules do not apply to visiting players.
Why there is debate
In the eyes of some commentators, the solution to the problem is simple: to require all players to be vaccinated against COVID. They argue that there are too many at stake – the success of their teams, the health of teammates and staff, billions in income – for a small number of refractories to compromise the stability of their seasons.
Others say the mandates are too strong and may be impossible to implement due to opposition from players’ unions. A more effective route, they say, is to make life more difficult for unvaccinated gamers. This could include stricter masking, testing and social distancing requirements from which vaccinated players are exempt – a strategy currently used by most leagues. Some have also called on players to forgo their pay for any games they miss due to their immunization status.
There is also a debate on how the media should approach the issue. Some have urged reporters to persist in forcing players to defend, or at least clarify, their positions on vaccines. Others say it is dangerous to give such influential figures a platform to air their doubts as vaccine reluctance leads to so many needless deaths across the country.
It remains to be seen whether renewed pressure or the prospect of missing games will convince Irving, Beal or any other unvaccinated player in the NBA or other leagues to get shot. The NHL begins its regular season on October 12. The NBA season kicks off on October 19.
Respectful discussion of player concerns is better than condemnation
âIt’s not fair to ignore the concerns of people of color when they talk about trusting a government, which for generations has established a pattern of heinous behavior designed to make their needs last. However, there has to be a smart way to approach this subject that doesn’t involve outwardly rejecting a vaccine mandate, while siding beyond ludicrous conspiracy theories. – James Dator, SB Nation
Anti-vaccine players shouldn’t have a platform
âWe have been taught that whenever a public figure shouts at a crowd, it must be documented and persevered for consumption, even if it is for mockery. But as times change and people become more gullible about bad news, the volume needs to be turned down for those yelling into the microphone. Even though spirits cannot be changed, the damage can be mitigated. – Vincent Goodwill, Yahoo Sports
Additional measures must be taken to prevent coronavirus outbreaks
âIf you are vaccinated, you don’t have to be tested if you don’t feel sick. If you are not vaccinated you will be tested all the time as you could be at a much higher risk of getting sick on your own or of spreading the virus. This is the deal we’re going to have to make to get back to normal. – Dan Wolken, USA today
Teammates, not leagues or the media, are the most effective messengers
âMaybe the peer pressure in the locker room will increase the number of vaccinated players. â¦ Anything that vaccinated NBA players can do to convince their vaccine teammates must be done. Worth it. â- Cecil Harris, NBC News
Being unvaccinated should carry a significant financial risk
âYou have to make it very clear that you don’t care whether the players are vaccinated or not. But if they aren’t vaccinated and can’t play games, they don’t get paid. If they aren’t vaccinated but are allowed to play, they must wear masks, follow all COVID-19 rules, and if they don’t, they are suspended. – David Samson, CBS Sports
Leagues should force COVID vaccines on all players
âMany professionals across the country simply cannot return to work without being vaccinated. … It is time for professional sports leagues to demand the same from players. Get vaccinated or don’t gamble. – La Velle E. Neal III, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Athletes must be forced to defend their anti-vaccine positions
“It would be better for everyone – and it’s public health, everyone is involved – if the unvaccinated players had the courage to be honest about their so-called research.” – Dennis Young, New York Daily News
Vaccination warrants are not the solution
âIn reality, any mandate would certainly be contested by the unions. Worse, a warrant would force non-vaccines to get started. It’s not like they’re acting rationally to begin with. – Marcus Hayes, Philadelphia investigator
Immunization status should be taken into account when teams draw up their lists
âIf you’re an NFL prospect, teams need to know you can play, in that you can run and catch and complete missions. And they need to know that you can play, in the sense that you won’t be spending weeks in the COVID-19 protocol, or in the hospital, and you won’t start the epidemic that will cost them a game. A vaccine is the easiest way to alleviate this concern. – Morgan Campbell, CBC
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Photographic illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Jose Carlos Fajardo / MediaNews Group / East Bay Times via Getty Images, Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images, Rob Carr / Getty Images, Getty Images