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Being a Team Player: Vaccination & Pro Sports


Written by Alexis Barton

On November 3rd, former league MVP Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19. In the height of the season, the Green Bay Packers lost their star quarterback who had been able to lead the team to the top of the NFC North division. The news came as a shock to fans as Rodgers claimed that he was “immunized” before the season started. It was revealed following his diagnosis that he had not been fully vaccinated, leaving both himself and his teammates at greater risk of becoming infected with the highly contagious disease. Rodgers was also handed a nearly $15,000 fine for attending the team’s Halloween party while being unvaccinated, which is in direct disobedience of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated players. 


While this news came as a shock to the football world, Rodgers is not alone in his status as an unvaccinated star player. In the NBA, Kyrie Irving is arguably the most avid advocate for staying away from the COVID-19 vaccine. Due to vaccine mandates in New York City, Irving has been deemed ineligible to play by the team’s general manager, Sean Marks, due to his vaccination status. The Nets signed Irving in the summer of 2019 and in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, Irving proved that he was worth their financial investment. Now, he is unable to play and is at risk for losing major amounts of money. According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks (2021), the star point guard could lose upwards of $380,000 from each per-game check, which could cost him nearly $15 million by the end of the season. His decision to remain unvaccinated could also lose him the opportunity of signing an extension with the Nets, or, in all reality, could bar him from signing with several other franchises across the country. Though Irving says his decision is purely about his personal health, it has clear ramifications that impact other areas of his life. 

Though the vaccine has not impacted his career in the NBA, Hall of Famer Magic Johnson has been an advocate for the vaccine both within the NBA and other professional sports leagues. The vaccination status of Rodgers and Irving alike bring an important question to the table. If you aren’t willing to receive the vaccine, can you really be there for your teammates? Johnson spoke directly on this issue, saying in an interview with CBS that, “I would never do that to my teammates” (2021). Though most professional athletes across the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL are fully vaccinated, the presence of unvaccinated players in the long-term can impact the success of the team, especially when those players are as integral as Rodgers and Irving. COVID-19 has changed the way that many people look at the world, and now with widespread access to the vaccine, it is changing how many will view teamwork and leadership in a post-pandemic era.