LeBron James has been urged to reconsider his refusal to confirm whether or not he will take the COVID-19 vaccine after comments which underscored apprehension amongst NBA players over the new coronavirus drugs.
In comments ahead of the All-Star Game last weekend, Los Angeles Lakers superstar James would not say whether he planned on getting vaccinated.
“That’s a conversation that my family and I will have. Pretty much keep that to a private thing,” James said. “Things like that, when you decide to do something, that’s a conversation between you and your family and not for everybody. I’ll keep it that way.”
James’ comments contrasted with efforts by the NBA to encourage people to get vaccinated. The league has created a number of public service advertisements attesting to the safety of the vaccine, including the likes of NBA icons such as Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“Anyone who has a following in our country can do a great job of getting people to understand that they need to be vaccinated ASAP,” Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview earlier this year. “I don’t think there is any problem with that.”
Yet while the likes of Russell, Abdul-Jabbar and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have enthusiastically promoted the vaccination rollout, there remains enduring apprehension amongst the NBA’s playing staff.
National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts told Yahoo Sports that reactions from players about whether to take the vaccine had ranged from “Hell no, I’m not taking it” to “Why can’t we take it sooner?”
James’ Lakers team-mate Jared Dudley expressed reservations about the vaccine, saying on Twitter on Sunday that healthy athletes were unlikely to rush to take the new drugs “without enough research.”
The Brooklyn Nets’ James Harden and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell also said they were undecided about the vaccine in remarks to reporters ahead of the All-Star Game in Atlanta last weekend.
– ‘Personal decisions’ –
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver meanwhile said the league had no plans to mandate vaccination amongst players.
“I think ultimately these are personal decisions that players need to make, just like everyone in our communities need to make,” Silver told reporters in a conference call on Saturday.
“We see our role, together with the Players Association, providing them with the best possible information, and also encouraging them to seek out information on their own.”
The apprehension amongst the NBA’s players, who are 74.2% Black, reflects broader reluctance amongst the African-American community.
Although distrust of the vaccine amongst African-Americans has declined recently according to a Pew Research Center survey published last week, Blacks remain more reluctant than the general population.
Experts say the reluctance is understandable given America’s history of conducting medical experiments on Black people. Among the most notorious were in Tuskegee, Alabama, between 1932 and 1972, when Black men were unwittingly used to study the effects of syphilis.
Nevertheless, commentators and public health officials have called on James to reconsider giving public backing to the vaccine, given Covid-19’s deadly impact on minority communities.
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith, said James was an “incredibly, incredibly influential figure.”
“He has taken positions on many, many, many things of incredible importance to our community,” Smith said.
“And if you could speak up about those things, you just might want to think about speaking up about this.
“Because he is who he is, and he’s acknowledged who he is, this is not the time to get private. Not on this.”
Abraar Karan, a global health physician and resident doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said athletes like James could have an “essential” role in public health.
“As a doctor I respect the privacy of what individual patients and people do, but I do think that if athletes like LeBron are going to be getting their vaccine it’s important to think about the public messaging around that,” Karan told TMZ.com in an interview.
“Athletes can take that public leadership role and help people feel safe about being vaccinated.”