Editor's note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Canada who are looking to learn more about vaccines, or the country's pandemic response, can find up-to-date information on Canada's public health website.
As NBA training camps get set to open this week, COVID-19 vaccines have dominated discussions around the league. In response to the uncertainty of some players, one of the sport's greatest icons is speaking out and encouraging as many people as possible to get their shots.
“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview with Rolling Stone's Matt Sullivan. “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research."
Last week, the NBA announced that it had denied Warriors star Andrew Wiggins a religious exemption from the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s vaccination requirements, essentially making it impossible for him to play home games without getting a COVID-19 vaccine. In San Francisco, everyone 12 years or older must be vaccinated to attend large and mega indoor events -- including the performers, staff and audience.
A similar policy exists in New York, where the Brooklyn Nets play home games. Nets star Kyrie Irving, a vice president on the executive committee of the NBPA, is believed to be one of the more prominent voices pushing back on vaccine mandates, according to Sullivan, although Irving's vaccine status is not publically known. Sullivan reports that, according to NBA sources, there are 50-60 players who have yet to receive a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way,” Kyrie’s aunt and advisor, Tyki Irving, told Sullivan, referring to the protocols in place to allow non-vaccinated players to still compete.
Those protocols, which have yet to be finalized, feature very different experiences for vaccinated players compared to those unvaccinated. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps, the updated protocols include more frequent testing for unvaccinated players, separate seating during team meals and travel, and stricter quarantines if an unvaccinated player tests positive for the coronavirus.
While the protocols -- like the ones implemented this past season and during the Orlando bubble playoffs before that -- would give unvaccinated players a chance to play, Abdul-Jabbar says athletes need to be role models for the wider community and show leadership in the fight against COVID-19.
“They are failing to live up to the responsibilities that come with celebrity," he said. "Athletes are under no obligation to be spokespersons for the government, but this is a matter of public health.”