- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2021

Bradley Beal had a cautionary COVID-19 message for those listening at the end of his press conferences last season: Mask up.

But on Monday, on the cusp of a new season, the Washington Wizards’ All-Star made it clear he won’t be doing public service announcements for the Centers for Disease Control any time soon.

On the team’s media day, Beal informed reporters he’s unvaccinated, repeating a litany of often-heard arguments to justify his decision to duck the shots.

The team leader’s comments came with training camp set to begin Tuesday. The NBA season begins Oct. 19, with the Wizards set to tip off a day later against the Toronto Raptors. 

Speaking to reporters, Beal said he would “definitely think” about getting the vaccine because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols for the upcoming season.

But for now, Beal said he doesn’t feel pressure to do so.

Beal initially declined to elaborate why he was hesitant to become vaccinated, but opened up when asked later on. 

“Every player, every person in this world is going to make their own decision for themselves,” Beal said. “I would like an explanation to you know, people with the vaccines, why are they still getting COVID? If that’s something we’re supposed to be highly protected from, like, it’s funny that, ‘Oh, it reduces your chance of going to the hospital.’ 

“It doesn’t eliminate anybody from getting COVID, right?”

A reporter then pointed out to Beal that in addition to reducing a person’s chances of going to the hospital, the vaccine also greatly reduces the risk of an individual dying from the virus. 

“You can still get COVID, right?” Beal said. “And you can still pass (the virus) along with the vax. I’m just asking a question.”

According to the CDC, no vaccine is “100% effective at preventing illness” and that breakthrough cases were expected.  But as of Sept. 20, of the 181 million fully vaccinated in the United States, less than 20,000 (19,136) have been hospitalized or died after a breakthrough infection.

Over the summer, Beal was forced to miss the Tokyo Olympics because he tested positive for the virus. The 28-year-old said it “definitely sucked” that he couldn’t represent his country, but he later laughed when asked whether the experience of having the virus swayed his opinion about the vaccine one way or another. 

Beal said he did not feel sick with COVID-19, adding that he only lost his sense of smell. He noted that catching the virus does not rule out the possibility that he could test positive for a second time later on, “just like there are players and coaches and staff who are vaxxed and are missing camp right now because of it.”

Beal is the latest high-profile athlete to speak out against the vaccine.

Over the weekend, Rolling Stone magazine published a story that detailed the tension between a number of  “anti-vaxx” players in the NBA and league officials over the protocols. In the story, Nets superstar Kyrie Irving is noted for liking Instagram posts from a “conspiracy theorist who claims that ‘secret societies’ are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for a ‘plan of Satan.’” The magazine adds that the “microchip misinformation campaign” has spread across NBA locker rooms and text message threads. 

On Monday, Irving tried to avoid questions from reporters when asked about his vaccination status. Because of New York’s mandate that requires athletes to have at least one dose of the vaccine to participate in team activities, Irving was not in attendance for the Brooklyn Nets’ media day. 

Due to the local mandate, Irving, who also serves on the players’ union executive committee, must be vaccinated to play in home games this season. But he declined to say whether he would do so.

“I would love to just keep that private and handle that the right way with my team and go forward with a plan,” Irving said.

Those who are resistant to the vaccine haven’t necessarily been welcomed with open arms. NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told Rolling Stone in an email that there was “no room” for unvaccinated players and argued the league should remove players unwilling to comply.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said while he would respect people who don’t get the vaccine as a personal choice, he has a problem with those who offer “‘[expletive] reasons” for not doing so. Towns lost his mother to the virus last spring and revealed to Sports Illustrated recently that he lost 50 pounds from also getting sick.

Beal said he understands “both sides,” the arguments for and against the vaccine. He said close members of his family — his parents, brothers and sister-in-law — have all chosen to get vaccinated. At the same time, there are those close to him who have chosen to hold out, as well.

As he was talking, Beal openly wondered about the people who have “bad reactions” to the vaccine. “Nobody likes to talk about that,” he said, though acknowledged the reason perhaps few do is because such cases are “minute.”  Beal wondered what would happen if a teammate got the vaccine and then had to miss time because of the side effects.

“It’s a fine line,” Beal said.  “It’s a personal choice between everybody. One hundred percent. I understand both sides of it. … We can talk all day about it. Everybody is going to have their own opinion about it. 

“Everybody’s going to have their own timing and comfort of when they feel like they want to meet those criteria or needs or feel like they want to go through getting the vaccine.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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