Should vaccines be required for all professional sports players?

Pro-athletes: well under 1% of the population can claim they are one. In fact, only about 1 in 250 college athletes go on to play professionally. It’s pretty rare and extremely impressive to do what they do. That is why the health and safety of these players should be of utmost importance. 

One of the most controversial medical debates in recent history has been over the coronavirus vaccine. At the moment, there is no federal mandate on needing to receive the vaccine although it is strongly recommended. Employers, universities and local governments can all issue some type of vaccination requirement…but what about national sports leagues?

In the National Football League, a mandate does not exist but there are certain protocols. Those who didn’t get vaccinated are tested daily for COVID-19 while vaccinated players are only tested weekly. Vaccinated players who test positive for corona may also be able to rejoin their team sooner than unvaccinated tested players who test positive. 

The National Basketball Association has not required vaccines either but will continue its strict regulations this season for unvaccinated players. Professionals like Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving who entered training camp unvaccinated face salary and playing time threats. Those who are unvaccinated won’t be allowed to play in games per the vaccine mandates of the host city, and they also risk getting paid for every game they sit out. Irving is ineligible to play any home games at the Barclays Center, which requires proof of vaccination for entry under New York City regulations, and it will cost him millions of dollars. Without directly requiring players to be vaccinated, this league devised a plan to encourage or incentivize players to get it.

Public health vaccination guidelines are not as easily transferable to elite athletes as they are to the average person. On one hand, the potential side effects of any injection or procedure should be more heavily taken into consideration. However, the risk of infection is higher in athletes due to worldwide traveling. If an athlete has to travel to another country, they should consider how protected they are against endemic diseases. In addition, the close contact an athlete has with teammates, coaches, and even opponents is a further concern when it comes to spreading a virus.

I do not believe vaccines need to be required for all professional sports players. Although, it is fair and almost necessary to have different protocols for athletes who choose to remain unvaccinated. If a coach isn’t comfortable with playing that athlete, or state guidelines prohibit it, the athlete could be benched. It is also important to educate athletes on the most appropriate thing to do. When celebrities such as legendary athletes do something, it influences many. These professionals can become role models for the general public, whether it’s wearing a certain shoe or promoting a certain brand, fans look up to them.

Athletes should definitely consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine if they haven’t already. Corona is a respiratory disease that can affect your lungs and ability to breathe, one of the most crucial functions for a physically active career. It seems many pros are ahead of the game though – reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that leagues such as the NBA, NFL, and MLS have vaccination rates greater than 90%, while the NHL and WNBA are at over 99%. This is high above the national average and reassuring to see. 

Getting the vaccine should not be a largely controversial issue. It is encouraged among the top scientists and researchers and could aid in our return to complete normalcy. I do believe that the COVID-19 vaccine should not be required for all professional sports athletes, to account for personal freedoms and the rare allergies or religious exemptions. I am, though, a firm advocate for creating penalties and having protocols for unvaccinated players. The National Leagues in the United States have successfully gotten players to receive the vaccine without mandates. I think everyone can agree that the health and safety of professional athletes are important as they train for our entertainment, but it is unethical to completely force them to get vaccinated.