I am feeling like Pollyanna a bit this morning. I had thought that by the time the NHL and the NBA began their seasons in the Fall that there would be a much more normal modus vivendi regarding COVID-19 and protocols and the like. Well, the NHL has seemingly figured out how to make all that stuff work in a way that allows the focus to be on teams and players and games and standings and – you know – the interesting and important stuff. Not so for the NBA…
The NHL season is underway; some of the teams already have four games in the books. The stories surrounding the NHL have to do with wins and losses and injuries; that is how things worked in the “normal times” before the coronavirus. The NBA season begins this week. Here are the “big storylines” coming out of training camps for the league:
- Can the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo repeat? [That is a fill in the blanks storyline that happens every year in every sport.]
- Has Lebron assembled a team around him that is of championship caliber? [I think we have heard that one before…]
- Ben Simmons and John Wall want to be traded. [The names change but we have heard that song sung before.]
If those were the big storylines hanging in the balance as the NBA prepared to tip off its new season, it would seem that a return to normalcy was well underway. However, the really big storyline coming out of training camp for the NBA has to do with – – drum roll please – – COVID-19 and the vaccine(s) available for COVID-19. Kyrie Irving chooses not to take the vaccine making him ineligible to play in games in NYC under current procedures in that city. The Nets have told Irving he cannot be part of the team if he can only play in about half of the Nets’ games this year and that he should stay away from meetings and practices and should not travel with the team.
Irving’s contract calls for him to make just a smidgen over $35M for the upcoming season – – predicated on his availability to play for something other than an injury. I am certain that there will be litigation/arbitration to come as to whether Irving can invoke the “guarantees” in that contract and continue to collect some or all that salary, but it would seem as if he is going to sacrifice at least a portion of it. He says he is willing to do so.
Adam Silver is trying to take a moral high ground here saying that the situation between Irving and the Brooklyn Nets is “between Kyrie and New York City right now.” Silver also said that he was happy with the way the league has managed the COVID issue citing mandatory vaccination status for all coaches, referees, trainers and media representatives that would come into close contact with players on a routine basis. The one area over which Silver and his minions have not been able to require vaccines is among the players themselves. The NBA protocols exist to protect the players and their ability to play; the players’ union has opposed mandating vaccines for the players themselves. Even COVID-19 cannot change the fact that the league and the union find themselves at loggerheads over just about everything.
Silver said that about 96% of the players have chosen to take the vaccine. Let us do some math; there are 30 NBA teams with 15-man rosters. If 4% of that cadre are unvaccinated, that translates to 18 vaccine holdouts. That means that Kyrie Irving has 17 colleagues who have made the same choice he has. Andrew Wiggins faced a comparable situation to Irving because the city of San Francisco has similar restrictions in place that would have barred him from playing games in San Francisco for the Warriors. Wiggins made the choice to take the vaccine; Irving has not.
Moreover, the coronavirus has an ongoing effect in another sport – college football. Washington State has fired head football coach, Nick Rolovich, for “not adhering to a statewide order” issued in August 2021 that mandated vaccines for all public employees. Rolovich was not only a public employee; he was the highest paid public employee in the State of Washington earning $3.2M per year. In addition to Rolovich, four assistant coaches (two on the offense and two on the defense) also lost their jobs over vaccination issues.
It is not as if this mid-season coaching upheaval was a surprise – or at least it should not have been. Back in August, Rolovich did not participate in person at the PAC-12 media day because it was held in Los Angeles and the city had a mandate for participants to be vaccinated. So, in this case, I find it difficult to “take sides.”
Let me be clear; I have been vaccinated and am waiting for the FDA approval of my booster shot which I will take as soon as I can. I respect the right of someone to refuse to take the vaccine and believe that any adverse consequences that arise from that refusal are good and proper.
- [Aside: The specific consequence of an unvaccinated person contracting the virus and spreading it to someone else so that “someone else” also suffers health consequences is neither good nor proper – – but I think you get what I mean here.]
The reason I find it hard to “take sides here is because the real loser(s) in the Washington State/Nick Rolovich standoff are the players on the football team. Those players have worked and trained in an attempt to play competitive college football; they did not go through all those rigors to be part of a drama that results in them losing a third of their coaching staff in the middle of the season. The chronological adults involved in this matter – the coaches, the Athletic Director, the university administrators, the state and local politicians – could be expected to have seen this coming and taken action before the fact. Instead, it sure seems as if process ruled the day and got us to a situation where it is the athletes who are collateral damage in a standoff involving none of them.
Finally, since much of the overhang of COVID on sports today involves individuals and their convictions, let me close with this note from Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche:
“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………