Vaccine Hesitancy Among Athletes: Does it Matter?

Written by: Niyanthri

Edited by: Jagat

Visuals by: Mischka

Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has profoundly impacted every aspect of day to day life. The sports world, in particular, has suffered from decreased participation due to social distancing guidelines, limits on in person audiences, and cancellations or postponement of many major events such as the Olympics. As such, the release of the vaccine was eagerly awaited. It was seen as an escape from the endless travel restrictions, COVID outbreaks even in isolated bubbles, and various obstacles to athletic events taking place. Despite this, multiple prominent athletes have been hesitant to promote the vaccine, some even going as far as to say that they would not take it if given the choice.  

Andrey Rublev, the current World No. 7 on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour, disclosed in March 2021 that “if I can choose and I can have the option to not have the vaccine, I will not get it.” He went on to clarify that there was no particular justification for this, simply that he has never been vaccinated since childhood, and he does not feel the need to start. Rublev is far from isolated in this regard – many of his fellow tennis players, from Diego Schwartzman to Elina Svitolina, have expressed similar sentiments. Additionally, Novak Djokovic, currently ranked first in the world, also said in May that he hoped COVID vaccinations will not be mandated by the ATP league, stating that “I’ve always believed in freedom of choice.” While these statements have drawn much ire from the tennis community and beyond, arguably a bigger impact has been made by the general skepticism surrounding the vaccine in the NBA. Kent Bazemore, who plays wing position for the Warriors, followed his teammate Andrew Wiggins in stating that he will most likely not take the vaccine unless somehow compelled. 

With viewership for regular season games over 1 million viewers, the NBA has an enduring influence in minority communities, especially among African-Americans and Latin Americans. These communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic – endorsements by trusted public figures could not only help the league carry on with its scheduled tournaments and increase viewership, it could reduce vaccine hesitancy among the general public as well. One eighth grader at ISM said that “I think the general reason athletes don’t want to be vaccinated is because they have to take a lot of care of their bodies. They’re probably skeptical about how safe it is, or the effect it will have on their routine and training,” showing that there is support for athletes exercising their free will in regards to getting the vaccine, but making a well educated choice overall. 

While athletes are not mandated, as of now, by most major sports leagues like the NBA, NHL, or ATP/WTA, almost all incentivize or offer benefits to vaccinated players, such as relaxed COVID protocols for those who are fully vaccinated. Athletes do have a say in whether or not they take the vaccine, but it is up to them to ensure that their positions are thoroughly justified and examine the repercussions of any decision they make on their audience and society at large. 

Works Cited

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