Credit: Nayaba Arinde photo

It’s rare when multi-millionaire athletes take a stand based on principle, which then threatens the fame and fortune they’ve worked so hard for.  Similar to athletes John Carlos, Tommie Smith and Colin Kaepernick and each of their silent protests during popular sporting events, the Brooklyn Nets star point guard, Kyrie Irving, 29, is taking a personal stance which is making news worldwide.

Irving is one of a few high-profile sportsmen refusing to accept the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and it’s already costing him his position on one of the NBA’s super-teams, and also jeopardizing his $186 million contract and his future with them. Not saying if he is for or against the vaccine per se, Irving said he wanted to be the “voice for the voiceless,” for those made to take the vaccine or lose their jobs.

On Sunday Oct. 24, at the Nets’ season-home opener against the Charlotte Hornets, hundreds of protestors and fans voiced support for Irving outside Barclays Center.

During an Instagram Live video earlier this month, Irving said “nobody should be forced to do anything with their bodies.”

New York City’s ordinance mandates people over 12-years-old have at least one vaccination shot to enter sporting arenas, however, it doesn’t apply to players from visiting teams. Irving hasn’t been vaccinated and says he understands the consequences.

“The financial consequences, I know I do not want to even do that,” Irving said last week. “I am going to just continue to stay in shape, be ready to play, be ready to rock out with my teammates and just be part of this whole thing. This is not a political thing; this is not about the NBA, not about any organization. This is about my life and what I am choosing to do.”

He was listed as “ineligible to play” in the injury report and didn’t play in the Nets season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday.  Two weeks ago, the Nets announced Irving wouldn’t be permitted to play or practice with the team until complying with NYC’s vaccine mandate.

“Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose,” a Net’s statement read. “Currently, the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.”

Mike Bass, a league spokesman, said last week that “any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for games that he misses.”

This situation is causing friction with the NBA’s player’s union which has refused instituting a league-wide vaccine mandate, although 96% have already done so.

“Without a doubt, losing a player of Kyrie’s caliber hurts,” said Nets’ general manager, Sean Marks. “I’m not going to deny that, but at the end of the day, our focus, our coaches’ and organization’s focus needs to be on those players that are going to be involved here and participating fully.”

At the rally on Sunday afternoon the crowd bumrushed the forecourt of the Barclay’s Center, and tried to enter the building. Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter New York encouraged the vociferous crowd to “Stand with Kyrie.”

Barclay Center workers rushed to close the doors, as basketball fans stood bewildered on line, as rally co-organizer activist Rev. Kevin McCall said, “We are here to stand in solidarity with Kyrie Irving.”

Hawk Newsome told the Amsterdam News, “I am saying no to the vaccine mandate, you are not going to force me to take a vaccine.” 

As NYPD top brass and rank and file stood on the fringes of the burgeoning crowd and swarmed Flatbush Avenue, New-some charged, “If you look across the country it is Black people who  are not taking the vaccine.” While arguably the white percentile of unvaccinated is also considerable, the BLM organizer continued, that the unvaccinated Black folk will be subjected to restrictions if they want to get on “public transport, and eat out, or go to parent-teacher night, they won’t have jobs to support themselves…so we need to pay attention to that.”

The next day, Monday morning, an estimated 1,000-plus crowd including municipal workers, police, EMS, and firefighters walked the Brooklyn Bridge protesting the enforced mandate due to kick in on Friday, October 29. Some said they did not trust the vaccine or the government. Others said that they just wanted the choice between testing or the vaccine.

All the media coverage, the millions of dollars worth of commercials, political discussions has not swayed thousands of city workers and medical staff, despite the threat of losing their jobs.

“Your vaccine you won’t force…My body, My choice,” was the refrain chanted by many on Sunday. “We the people, will not comply.” Others proclaimed that they were, “Not anti-vaccine, anti-mandate.”

At Sunday’s protest former Bronx City Councilmember Andy King told the Amsterdam News, “I’m here because a man called Kyrie Irving is not afraid to stand on principle…and say ‘My right is my right’… someone wants to take on their spiritual belief.”

Nation of Islam’s Brother Henry Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque Brooklyn No. 7C spoke about other therapies developed in the world that have not been acknowledged. “They are trying to use money, and the threat of money, to make us take something
that is not right for our bodies. Kyrie Irving is one brother that is standing up listening to the voice of god within himself, and because he can attract millions, they want to make him an example.”

Stating that she is a fired anti-mandate teacher Mitzie Holstein carried a sign saying, “I did not take the jab, so they took my job.”

“I’m here in support of the community, in support of the people, of those who have lost jobs…our rights, in support of choices that we choose for ourselves,” said activists Shanduke McPhatter, founder of GMACC (Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes). “I am also someone who has not taken the vaccine because of all the things I believe it could do to my body.” The Brooklyn Borough President independent candidate also added to those have got the vaccine, “Take the shot, that’s your choice and I support that. 

“There are teams coming to play the Nets that don’t have the same mandate that Kyrie and the Nets do. Kyrie should be able to play. His contract did not say he had to take a vaccine in order to play.”

While not speaking on Sunday, Irving explained prior, “I’m a human being first. Obviously, living in this public sphere, it’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie. I think I just would love to keep that private, handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with the plan.  You think I really want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to give up my job? You think I really want to sit at home?”

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