“I stand with Kyrie”: The Debate Around Vaccination Requirements

Ruth Assefa, Reporter

With almost 95% of NBA players vaccinated against COVID-19, seven-time NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving stands out amongst his teammates and opponents due to his vaccination status. Players were given a choice to get vaccinated or not and still receive the opportunity to play, but Irving’s case is different. New York City announced a vaccine mandate prohibiting unvaccinated players from participating in home games. The mandate forced the Brooklyn Nets to bar Irving from being able to play at the start of the season.

The Brooklyn Nets entered the season as strong contenders to win the 2021-22 NBA Championship, but with the uncertainty of the starting point guard to return to the court, their chances have been doubted. Irving addressed questions around his vaccine decision in an Instagram Live a couple of days after the NBA’s Media Day. Irving explained that he didn’t care if he was losing money and that his decision was based on personal reasons and what is best for him.

It is not about the money, baby,” Irving said. “It is about choosing what is best for you…you really think I want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship?”

Irving’s decision received criticism from 6-time NBA MVP and NBA Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar who told Rolling Stone that players who refused to take the vaccine should be removed from the team.

“There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates,” Abdul-Jabaar said.

Along with criticism around Irving’s decision came praise. Irving’s decision received support from politicians Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. as well as celebrities Chris Brown and Floyd Mayweather. Trump Jr. compared Irving’s decision to not get vaccinated to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem in a tweet: “Kyrie just sacrificed more than Kaepernick ever did!”

Besides politicians and celebrities, Irving’s decision received praise from many fans of the NBA as well as those who don’t watch basketball. Supporters of Irving’s decision stood outside of Barclays Center on October 24 chanting “I stand with Kyrie” to show their support. 

Kyrie Irving’s decision contributed to the sparked debate over vaccination requirements, not only in major league sports but also in the workplace, schools, tourist attractions, etc. Mandatory vaccination for COVID-19 hasn’t been placed in schools yet but the concept is not new. Students need to take a certain amount of vaccinations to be enrolled in public schools, private schools, daycares, and more.

“GISD has vaccine requirements,” says Rachael Fenlon-Johnson, North Garland High School’s Girls JV basketball coach. “They are listed on the GISD webpage under the enrollment tab and are mandated by Texas state law.”

If vaccination requirements have always been set by organizations, schools, and companies, what is the problem with the NBA setting COVID-19 Vaccine requirements for its employees and players?

“The NBA is a business,” says Fenlon-Johnson. “Businesses can require vaccines. If the NBA feels that it is important for their employees to be vaccinated, then they should have the right to require that.”

Almost more than 20 states have a vaccine mandate of some sort for employees that come from different fields. New York is an example of a state with strict vaccination requirements. They’ve required all healthcare workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or they risk losing their job. Many see these types of mandates as unfair and it puts people in an uncomfortable position where they feel like their rights are violated.

“I do not think it is anyone’s right to require this[COVID-19 vaccination],” says Candice Followwell, North Garland High School’s Girls Freshman basketball coach. “It is a freedom of being in America that we are afforded the right to choose, and I don’t think anyone should be forced if they do not feel comfortable.”

As of now, Moderna’s COVID vaccine offers the most protection against the virus according to the CDC. Since its debut in December 2020, the COVID vaccine has yet to 100% protect people from the virus.  Many people question companies and organizations for requiring a vaccine for their employees that is still so new and does not fully protect people from the virus.

“If the vaccine could prove to be 100% effective I think it would be a different situation altogether,” says Erica Coker, North Garland High School’s Head Girls soccer coach. “I believe that requiring someone to receive a fairly new form of medication by a certain time puts people in a tough spot for no reason…I think that it depends on the situation and that everything has to be looked at individually and not as a whole.”

There has been talks that the Nets may be looking into trading the 7-time All-Star but as Irving mentioned in his Instagram Live, he is determined to maintain the career he worked hard for. Irving’s situation goes to show how one’s career or job could vanish due to not working with the requirements put in place for the job.

“The NBA is a job, a very desirable and well paying job, but a job nonetheless,” says Fenlon-Johnson. “Part of having a job is meeting the requirements of the job. Any person that can’t or won’t meet the requirements of that job is free to have any other job available for which they meet the requirements…This is really a civil rights issue and not a sports issue.”