NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday the league has discussed having players receive COVID-19 vaccines to educate and influence the public regarding their safety and effectiveness.
“There have been discussions. It’s something we’re particularly focused on,” Silver said at a virtual conference hosted by Sportico.
“In the African American community, there’s been enormously disparate impact from COVID … but now, somewhat perversely, there’s been enormous resistance [to vaccinations] in the African American community for understandable historical reasons. … If that resistance continues, it would be very much a double whammy to the Black community, because the only way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated.”
Some public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health, have said that leaders with large platforms such as ministers, entertainers and athletes can set an example by getting the vaccine.
“Several public health officials — and this is operating state by state right now — have suggested there would be a real public health benefit to getting some very high-profile African Americans vaccinated to demonstrate to the larger community that it is safe and effective,” Silver said.
“At the appropriate time, whenever that is and whether that’s directed federally by NIH or CDC or ultimately state-by-state programs, we think there’s real value in our players demonstrating to a broader community how important it is to get vaccinated.”
Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, has indicated that discussions with players have shown that many are hesitant about getting the vaccine. She herself is hesitant.
“I’ve heard they want Black influencers to step up, convince the Black community to do this,” Roberts said in an interview with Yahoo Sports last month. “I’m just waiting on the tap on the shoulder to say, ‘Michele, will the players do this?’ I know it’s coming.
“But I haven’t made up my mind. I’m eager to be convinced that these are safe. I’m hopeful I’ll be convinced that they’re safe. But I’m not a cheerleader.”
Last week Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received his first dose of the vaccine and is now spreading support for it. On Monday, the NBA released a public service announcement featuring Abdul-Jabbar’s action during its Martin Luther King Day slate of games. Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron also has received the vaccine and hopes to spread the message.
Silver said last month that “there’s no way we’d ever jump the line in any form whatsoever,” and he emphasized that the NBA would not attempt to get the vaccine for players without the support of public health officials.
The NBA is currently dealing with an outbreak of the virus, as 15 games have been postponed already this season, including 14 since Jan. 10.
“Anything we will do will be fully transparent and in conjunction with public health authorities, so there’s no sense whatsoever that there’s some favoritism going on here,” Silver said. “Only be done if public health officials determine on balance it was the right time to vaccinate our players.”