Andrew Wiggins doesn’t want it. Monty Williams isn’t sure. And Herm Edwards already has it but thinks the decision should be left to the individual.
These diverging opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine hint at how life has changed since March 2020, when the virus put the world on lockdown and threw sports at every level into chaos.
Since that time, sports have resumed but in an atypical fashion. But what once seemed like a plot from a science fiction novel is now reality, not just for Arizona franchises but for teams, clubs and leagues around the globe, forcing the sports world to face difficult decisions about the ethics of the vaccine and the complexities surrounding it.
The COVID-19 vaccine, three types of which are approved for use in the United States, is going into arms around the planet, and it is a potential game changer in sports.
As of April 7, over 108 million Americans have taken at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine while more than 63 million others have already been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, none of the four major North American professional sports leagues — the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL — require athletes or team personnel to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The NCAA has yet to implement a vaccine requirement either, and Arizona’s four state universities do not require athletes to take it.
Shawn Klein, a lecturer in philosophy at ASU who specializes in sports ethics, theorizes that this decision has been influenced by a variety of factors.
“(The leagues) announcing that they’re going to make it mandatory when there might be scarce resources, and (when) not everybody who might be on the most prioritized level has been able to get the vaccine yet, that might not look great,” Klein said.
Klein acknowledged that access to the vaccine has improved in recent weeks. But he added that leagues may not require vaccinations because they are “just respecting the autonomy of the players to make that decision on their own, whether or not to get vaccinated and when to get vaccinated.”
Chris Paul, a Suns guard and the NBA Players Association’s president, doesn’t believe that a vaccination requirement in the NBA is coming anytime soon.
“We’re a players’ association; we’re a union. But there are things that are personal to every player. We’ll keep talking about it as a union, as players or whatnot. But I don’t see any mandate coming and enforcing someone to do something,” Paul said prior to the NBA All-Star game.
In the meantime, athletes, coaches and trainers have already started receiving their doses of the vaccine. The Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trailblazers, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Houston Astros are among the variety of professional sports teams that have received doses of the vaccine.
On March 23, players and coaches from the Arizona Diamondbacks volunteered at a local vaccination site, as volunteers from the team also received their first doses of the vaccine on-site.
Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer is among the contingent of athletes looking forward to getting his vaccine.
“I tend to follow science. I try to listen to what the scientists say, what the experts say. So, for me, I see a benefit in it, and I can’t wait to get it,” Scherzer said on a Zoom call with reporters.
Meanwhile, at the collegiate level, ASU football coach Herm Edwards, who was infected with COVID-19 in November, is fully vaccinated. And in March, at a men’s college gymnastics meet, Illinois sophomore Evan Manivong pulled his COVID-19 vaccination card out of his singlet after sticking the landing on a vault, a moment caught on video that quickly went viral.
But not all members of the sports world have been as willing to receive their doses. Golden State Warriors forward Wiggins and Philadelphia 76ers center Dwight Howard, among others, have expressed skepticism about getting a vaccine. And when asked whether he would be willing to take the vaccine, Williams, the Phoenix Suns coach, was hesitant in making a decision either way.
“For me, it’s not just me. It’s me and my family. I can’t do anything that’s going to keep me or put me in a position where I can’t take care of my family or that puts me in a position that I’m not well. So I have to get more information before I can say ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’” Williams said.
Klein believes that an athlete or coach’s motivation behind not taking the vaccine may be driven by a variety of factors. Religious reasons, unfamiliarity with the science behind the vaccine, and “legitimately based” safety concerns were a few potential reasons he listed.
Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet has encouraged his players to learn as much as they can about the vaccine before coming to any conclusions. Tocchet added that he trusts the input of the team’s medical staff on the vaccine and that his players are receiving new information “almost daily” about it.
“I rely on those (medical staff) guys there. I ask them questions about it,” Tocchet said.
But educational outreach and talk about the vaccine at the collegiate level may be more complex, Klein said, noting that the unpaid relationship between college athletes and the schools they play for is more nuanced than in the professional sports world.
“I think it’s more just the relationship that student-athletes who are not being paid directly remunerated. They don’t have a contract (like) professional (have),” Klein said. “The level of autonomy a professional has, in terms of treating (their sport) as their career and lifestyle, is different (than) a college student who also has many demands on them.”
At ASU, Edwards believes it isn’t his right to direct athletes as to take the vaccine or avoid it.
“I stay in my lane when it comes to that,” Edwards said. “I just know my wife has the vaccine. Our son was in town. He got vaccinated, and he’s going to come back three weeks from now and get a second shot.”
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