Earlier this year, following the release of the COVID-19 vaccine, the NBA ran a series of public service announcements featuring Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell, and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. They were shown on camera receiving the vaccine and encouraged others to do the same.
None of those PSAs have featured current players, however, and that’s because there’s a reluctance from many stars to participate, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
The NBA’s outreach to the agents of many of the league’s elite players — with hopes of getting stars to participate in PSAs to promote the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine — has been met with a tepid response, sources said. Player apprehensions about receiving the vaccine are consistent with those that also exist in Black communities throughout the country, agents and players told ESPN.
Sources describe a number of factors contributing to many players’ reluctance to participate, including uncertainty about taking the vaccine themselves, reluctance to advocate its use for others and resistance to extending favors to a league amid the largely unpopular plans for an All-Star Game.
The league’s vice president of medical affairs, Dr. Leroy Sims, is in the process of holding mandatory seminars with all 30 teams, during which he’s attempting to educate players on the importance of the vaccine and answering the various questions they may have.
“One of the elite players in the league said to me, ‘Dr. Sims, what you’re asking is for us to be spokesmen?’ My response was: Absolutely. Yes, we do want you to be spokesmen. We do want you to partner with us.
“But it’s multi-fold. Right now, they can’t get shots, but they can still show support for parents or grandparents getting their vaccines now; and when the time comes, they can show their support by speaking and telling people they’ve gotten it — or showing pictures of them getting it. There will be a tremendous benefit having some of our players coming out publicly supporting this because their actions, their words, carry weight in the community.”
Much of the fear and distrust around the vaccine in the African American community stems from previous government malpractice, such as the infamous Tuskegee Study, which Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers mentioned earlier in this process. “We don’t forget stuff like that,” Rivers said.
That isn’t to say that everyone in the league is opposed to the vaccine. Last month, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told Yahoo Sports that discussions about the vaccine with players have ranged from “Hell no, I’m not taking it” to “Why can’t we take it sooner?”
Eventually, more players may come around, especially considering that current COVID-19-based restrictions could be loosened for vaccinated teams. However, at this point, it’s clear there’s still a lot of work to do to reach a point where any sort of majority of the league will be willing to take the vaccine, let alone star in PSAs about it.