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As the Kyrie Irving vaccine holdout reaches news cycle 42, there's an interesting talking point doing the rounds in the social-media sphere: Irving is a generous and accomplished man from a philanthropic standpoint. He gives a lot to charity, and to good causes, too. There's no doubt about it, and he should be commended for it, and also it's not particularly relevant here.
Because this does not need to be a massive referendum on Kyrie Irving the human being, who—like everyone else, in public life or not—must apparently now be assigned one of the two labels, Hero or Supervillain. Irving is simply taking a silly and counterproductive stand on this one issue. (Well, also the flat-Earth thing, though he kind of walked that back.) His reasoning on the vax is nonsense, and he has totally failed to grapple with the fact that more than 2 billion people have been fully vaccinated worldwide and a vanishingly small number of adverse events due to the vaccine have been recorded. We are not depending on scientific research on small groups of people that can be hard to parse for the layman. We have a massive, real-world experiment playing out in front of everyone, and after six, eight, nine months or more, people are vaxxed up and doing fine. Irving's refusal to get the vaccine, a requirement to function as a Brooklyn Nets player, has nothing to do with reasoned skepticism. In the process, he's putting more than $30 million in salary in jeopardy and being a very bad teammate.
In fairness, proponents of the vax are probably helping to drive this trench-digging around Irving's overall character. Mostly well-meaning people who grasp the importance of getting as many people as possible vaccinated are criticizing Irving not just for letting down his teammates, who have assembled with the singular mission of winning an NBA championship and could use his absurd handles and silky touch around the rim, but for harming the vaccination drive. In some cases, he's even personally cast as a potential vector for disease. This isn't wrong. Irving doesn't pose all that much of a threat to his (young, healthy, vaccinated) teammates, but Baxter Holmes has reported for ESPN on uneasiness among workers around the league about the unvaccinated holdouts. Probably more importantly, though, his stand is not helping the societal effort to move on from this disease, and that is unacceptable. In his Instagram Live on Wednesday evening, Irving once again said he wasn't anti-vaccine, but I think we can safely say he is not pro-vax, and some people out there will take cues from him. Maybe they were planning to skip the shot anyway, and this is just some added ammunition.
But even acknowledging all that, maybe we ought to take this moment to reflect on whether it helps to go apocalyptic on this stuff. Irving's stand is reckless and selfish and silly, but there's no reason think he wants people to get sick. Personally, I swing back and forth between the feeling that we just need to ridicule people who are vocally anti-vax because their positions are absurd, and the feeling that in the end, the hostility is counterproductive. (One thing's for sure: appealing to the actual scientific record here is not going to help. My approach now is mostly to keep it simple: Get Vaxxed, Move On With Your Life.) More generally, our binary system of moral assessment seems to be coming up short in terms of creating a society we want to live in. There are many times over the last few years when the national press, in particular, failed to call evil acts what they were. But does it really serve us to spend our time branding evil people? I don't know, exactly. We might be better served keeping things specific. For instance: not getting the vaccine is dumb.
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