Why LeBron Is Wrong About "Honoring" Vaccination Hesitancy

700,000 + dead Americans, thousands of which were preventable, says it all

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I’m a huge fan of LeBron James, both as one of the greatest basketball players ever and as a humanitarian who cares about social injustice. I have written his praises many times in the past and undoubtedly will in the future. I admire him and have affection for him. But this time LeBron is just plain wrong—and his being wrong could be deadly, especially to the Black community.

After Golden State Warrior Andrew Wiggins received criticism for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine for personal reasons, his teammate Draymond Green said the public needs to “honor” that decision: “There is something to be said for people’s concerns about something that’s being pressed so hard,” he stated. “Why are you pressing this so hard? You have to honor people’s feelings and their own personal beliefs.” To which LeBron responded that he “couldn’t have said it better myself.” Actually, it couldn’t have been said worse.

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On the surface, it appears that Draymond and LeBron are arguing for the American ideal of individual freedom of choice. But they offer no arguments in support of it, nor do they define the limits of when one person’s choice is harmful to the community. They are merely shouting, “I’m for freedom.” We’re all for freedom, but not at the expense of others nor if it damages the country. That’s why we mandate seatbelts, motorcycle helmets, car insurance, education for our children. For example, seatbelt compliance is at 88% in the U.S., but that 12% that doesn’t comply results in 47% of car accident fatalities (17,000) and costs U.S. employers $5 billion a year, and those costs are passed on to us. They made the choice, but we survivors are left to deal with the grief and the price tag.

The cost of COVID-19 on this country is difficult to measure. We can come up with a monetary amount: Harvard economists say it’s cost us $16 trillion so far. Money that might have been spent to build the country, provide jobs, help the disadvantaged. But the real cost is the 700,000 dead, thousands of which could have been saved if they’d followed the CDC protocols and got vaccinated. And thousands more are dying every day. Add to that the medical costs of those who will suffer for years from long-haul symptoms.

The only support for Draymond’s statement is his belief that when people “press hard” there’s something inherently wrong with their opinion. There is no logic to that statement. If I press hard against institutional racism, if I press hard against police brutality, if I press hard against recent laws making it harder for minorities to vote, if I press hard against child porn, if I press hard in support of MeToo am I automatically wrong? On the contrary, the passion of those urging vaccines might suggest there’s some urgency to their opinion. That the situation is serious and we need to take immediate action to protect people. That thousands are dying every day, mostly among the unvaccinated. That the Black community, where vaccine hesitancy is high, are dying at a disproportionately higher rate than whites. That publicly talking about honoring opinions that contribute to their deaths is irresponsible.

The country also mandates against drunk driving, “pressing hard” against the freedom to drive under the influence.  We do that because drunk driving kills 11,000 Americans every year and costs us more than $44 billion dollars. Vaccine deniers and those who want to “honor” them are like drunk drivers who are convinced they’re okay to drive. When they make it home without an accident, that means they were right. Until they aren’t. Which is why 97% of COVID deaths are among the unvaccinated.

And while some who don’t get the vaccine might never get sick or if they do suffer mild symptoms, they are still unknowingly spreading the disease to others, killing some. While we’re honoring the unvaccinated, COVID cases are rising alarmingly among young children.

I think of the situation like those old fire brigades when people stood in a line passing buckets of water to save their neighbor’s house from burning to the ground. Maybe some people were afraid to join the line. But when the town leaders joined in, it encouraged others to do their duty. Today’s celebrities and athletes are like those town leaders. You either join the line to save your neighbor’s home, or you stand by and let it burn because you don’t owe them anything.