Toronto Star

Anti-vax players a dangerous influence

- Damien Cox Twitter: @DamoSpin

So Kyrie Irving, while a great basketball player, is a nut. We already knew that.

The fact that Andrew Wiggins has apparently been drawn into what Irving himself describes as “Kyrie’s world” is, well, embarrassi­ng. For both basketball and Canada.

Wiggins, a 26-year-old born and raised in the GTA, hasn’t quite turned out to be the basketball saviour he was touted as when drafted first overall in 2014. But he’s still very good and very rich, pulling down $31.6 million (U.S.) per season.

For all that wealth, however, he isn’t inclined to become properly informed, and has instead joined the small, deeply suspicious world of COVID-19 vaccine deniers who believe science is a matter of opinion.

This isn’t quite as disappoint­ing as, say, Bobby Orr coming out in support of Donald Trump, but it’s in the same conversati­on.

Wiggins tried to get a religious exemption from the NBA to allow him to play home games in San Francisco this season as an unvaccinat­ed member of the Golden State Warriors, but the NBA told him to take a hike.

On Monday, media day around the league, he declined to explain himself, most likely because there is no logical explanatio­n.

“Back is definitely against the wall, but I’m just going to keep fighting for what I believe,” Wiggins said. “What’s right to one person isn’t right to the other and vice versa.”

Wiggins can’t play in San Francisco if he is unvaxxed because, starting in mid-October, local health authoritie­s won’t permit unvaccinat­ed people over the age of 12 to enter large arenas. Wiggins stands to lose $350,000 for every home game he misses.

“It’s my problem, not yours,” he told a media conference Monday.

Wiggins will, however, be able to play in all 41 road games because local regulation­s vary throughout the United States, and because the NBA has refused to make vaccinatio­ns mandatory. Why? At least partly because the players’ union, addled by anti-vax agitators, won’t support the idea.

“It’s none of your business, that’s what it comes down to,” Wiggins said. “Some people shed their beliefs onto their children; some people let their children grow up and believe what they want to believe.”

That’s not an explanatio­n. And no mention of a possible religious reason.

“I’ll say something when I’m ready,” Wiggins said.

That won’t happen because there is no logical “side” of the anti-vaxxer argument. It’s just the willingly uninformed and misguided such as Irving, who has previously stated publicly that he believes the world is flat. The Brooklyn Nets guard also sits on the executive committee of the players’ union.

It’s estimated that 50 to 60 NBA players refuse to be vaccinated, more than 10 per cent of the total. Irving, who has described himself as a “smart-ass individual” and “big conspiracy theorist,” declined Monday to explain why he won’t get the vaccine.

“I like to keep that stuff private, man. I’m a human being first. Obviously living in this public sphere, there’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie,” Irving said.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, Irving recently started following a conspiracy theorist who believes “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black Americans to a master computer for a “plan of Satan.”

So there’s Irving, and then there’s Wiggins. On the other side, there is NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“(Unvaxxed NBA players) are failing to live up to the responsibi­lities that come with celebrity. Athletes are under no obligation to be spokespers­ons for the government, but this is a matter of public health,” he told Rolling Stone. “I’m also concerned about how this perpetuate­s the stereotype of dumb jocks who are unable to look at verified scientific evidence and reach a rational conclusion.”

It’s going to be interestin­g to see how the NBA deals with all this. There is some fear that rather than lay down the law, the league may try to appease this minority. Already, the NBA has reversed course to mandate masks for courtside players, vaxxed or not.

While NBA players don’t have to be vaccinated, pretty much everyone else involved with the league does — coaches, trainers, officials and any other staff who come within 15 feet to work with players. In some cities, such as Toronto, fans must be fully vaccinated to enter the arena. But not the players.

While the NBA deals with this reluctant but apparently influentia­l minority, the WNBA is almost fully vaccinated. The NFL, despite clowns such as quarterbac­k Kirk Cousins, had about 94 per cent of its players vaccinated going into the opening week of the season.

NHL deputy commission­er Bill Daly, meanwhile, estimated the league would have 10 to 15 unvaccinat­ed players by the time the regular season starts Oct. 12. To its credit, the NHL seems to be taking a harder line than the NBA, and hasn’t applied for the national interest exemption that would allow unvaccinat­ed players to cross the U.S.-Canada border.

That exemption has allowed Major League Baseball players to cross since the summer, and will let players such as Wiggins to play in Toronto this season. Golden State visits the Raptors on Dec. 18.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr seemed to hold out hope that Wiggins will eventually be made eligible for home games. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Warriors connected Wiggins with a doctor who explained the death and suffering caused by COVID.

At a time when science is playing a greater role in the everyday lives of profession­al athletes and sports than ever before, it is perplexing indeed that there are high-profile, university-educated stars such as Wiggins who believe they know better on this issue. Or selectivel­y don’t trust reason and science.

It’s embarrassi­ng, really. And dangerous.

 ?? JIM MCISAAC GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO ?? The Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins, left, and the Nets’ Kyrie Irving are among up to 60 unvaccinat­ed NBAers in a league that makes it mandatory for almost everyone but the players.
JIM MCISAAC GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO The Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins, left, and the Nets’ Kyrie Irving are among up to 60 unvaccinat­ed NBAers in a league that makes it mandatory for almost everyone but the players.
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