Should We Just “Leave Kyrie Alone”?

Irving is sitting out helping to save lives as well as basketball games

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Some NBA players are making a point of publicly not condemning Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving for his decision to sit out playing with his team rather than get the COVID-19 vaccine. They just want all the controversy to end. I couldn’t help but remember Chris Crocker’s famous 2007 tearful wail on behalf of besieged Britney Spears to “Leave Britney alone!” Teammate Kevin Durant said, “I can’t be too mad at somebody making a decision for themselves.” Lakers’ LeBron James said in September, “I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family.” Even vaccine-proponent Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, who lost his mother and several other family members and contracted the virus himself, has supported choice: “I will say is that I believe in choice and I like to give people their choice and I have no problem with people having their choice."

This tepid kid-glove handling from players who have all gotten the vaccine appears more an attempt to preserve a congenial working relationship than true support for making asinine choices. They’re like the Real Housewives pretending they’ve got Erika Jayne’s back in her legal woes because they still have to go to dinner parties with her. Though they don’t mean to, by not strongly condemning Irving, they are signaling passive support, which is as damaging as joining him on the bench as a vaccine-denier.

There are serious consequences to tiptoeing around what is clearly a threat to many people’s lives, especially Black lives? The last time I wrote about this topic a couple weeks ago, we had just hit 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. As I write this today, we’ve reached 723,754 deaths. By the time you read this, a few thousand more will have died.

Irving has made it clear—in an unclear way—that he is resisting getting vaccinated, not because he’s against the vaccine, but because he’s against mandates: “Just know that I'm rocking with all those that have lost their jobs to this mandate, and I'm rocking with all those that chose to get vaccinated and are choosing to be safe, as well. I'm on both sides of all this. I support and respect everybody's decision.” Respecting everyone’s decision sounds good—sounds so patriotic and All-American. But it’s lame logic. We don’t respect the choice of someone in an apartment building to let mold run rampant because it will make all the tenants sick. We don’t respect the choice of letting your house burn to the ground without fighting the fire because it may burn the neighbors’ houses, too.

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