In professional sports locker rooms across America, in the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and other leagues, millionaire athletes are talking with each other about a decision that can dramatically affect their careers, their families and their teams.
It’s whether to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or not.
Mason Jones, who played for the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers last season, decided to take the shot.
“In the locker room, there are mixed emotions,” Jones said. “Some people got it just to have it, while others have conducted their own research. I’m vaccinated because I feel like it’s the right thing to do. The vaccine will keep me healthy, safe and out on the court.”
Jones said his COVID-19 vaccination paid dividends almost immediately.
As a Rocket, Jones made his first career start in the seventh game of the regular season when multiple players were out with injuries and others couldn’t play due to coronavirus safety protocols. Jones erupted for a career high 24 points in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
He also has seen what happens when players aren’t vaccinated.
While playing with the Washington Wizards in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year, the team had an outbreak of COVID-19. Due to contact tracing rules, the NBA postponed their first game against the Indiana Pacers because the Wizards didn’t have enough eligible players.
“That was frustrating because summer league is crucial to making an NBA roster.,” Jones said. “Every game counted, and we were ready to showcase our talent.”
The vast majority of NBA and NFL players are vaccinated, at least 90% in each league, league officials said.
The NBA has taken a strong stance by saying players who do not comply with local vaccination rules will not be paid for missed games.
In late July, the NFL informed clubs that if a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18 week season in 2021 due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit the game and be credited with a loss for playoff seeding.
Additionally, San Francisco and New York City have mandated that participants, fans, players and staff must be vaccinated to attend an event inside an enclosed arena. Consequently, if players are not vaccinated, they can’t play in those stadiums, regardless of the team.
One immediate example of the consequences was apparent during the Brooklyn Nets media day in the Barclay Center where the Nets play. Perennial All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving was not allowed to participate in media day, because he was not vaccinated.
Despite the leagues’ high vaccination rates, controversy still hovers around the topic, because some high profile athletes, like Irving, still have not been vaccinated.
Ron Shade is senior director and agent with Octagon, one of the world’s top sports agencies. The firm has 50 offices in 22 countries.
Shade represents a slew of professional athletes, including Bryn Forbes, a shooting guard with the San Antonio Spurs; Jarrett Culver, a shooting guard with the Memphis Grizzlies; Monté Morris, a point guard for the Denver Nuggets, and Bam Adebayo, a center for the Miami Heat who won a gold medal this year with the U.S. Olympic basketball team in Tokyo.
Shade, who has been an agent for nearly a decade, said he gives his clients information about the vaccines, but ultimately it is up to them to do what’s best for them and their families.
“I believe a lot of agents and agencies are doing the appropriate thing,” Shade said. “We all are providing our clients with evidence and information regarding the vaccine and leaving it up to them.
“I personally have taken it and would not advise someone to do something that I would not do myself. I also feel that the NBA is handling the situation properly by working with the (NBA) players association to get as many players comfortable as possible.
“The NBA is a multibillion-dollar business. They would not allow or encourage any of their athletes to take something that would be detrimental to their health.”
A.J. Green, a cornerback for the surging Cleveland Browns football team, said he and other Browns players have discussed the pros and cons of the medication, but taking the vaccine was the best decision for his career.
“I took the vaccine because we are always traveling, and with family visiting, I didn’t want to put anyone at risk,” Green said. “I also didn’t want to receive a huge fine from the NFL and felt that life would be easier if I just took the vaccine.
“Everyone should do what’s best for them but losing a key player for a few weeks could be costly, and we could forfeit games.
“Players don’t have a problem taking the vaccine, but no one wants to feel forced. The coaches feel that players should take the vaccine, because it gives players a secure and competitive advantage knowing that everyone is safe.”