Due to public safety concerns regarding the pandemic, the unvaccinated Irving won’t be allowed to play games in New York. According to the city mandate, anyone entering an indoor gym/arena – including Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, the homes of the Nets and New York Knicks – must have had at least one COVID-19 shot.
It’s Irving’s right to say no to the mandate – and it’s his right to forfeit half his salary. On the other hand, it’s the Nets’ right to say they’re not interested in a part-time player in a team sport in which every other player and coach is sacrificing for the good of the team and working on a cause bigger than their individual desires.
Decisions have consequences.
I admire people who stand up for their principles – especially when they’re in the minority. That takes courage. But this is more than a personal belief issue. It’s a public health issue. And Irving playing for the Nets without being vaccinated puts the health of teammates, opponents, officials, coaches, administrators and fans at risk.
According to team officials, Irving won’t be welcomed back to the team until he’s fully able to participate in team activities.
“He has a choice to make and he made his choice,” said Nets’ general manager Sean Marks. “We respect the fact that he has a choice and he can make his own right to choose. Right now, what’s best for the organization is the path we are taking. … They are never easy decisions but at the end of the day, I think we are looking at putting a group of people that are going to be able to participate fully and that is what this comes down to. And we’re not looking for partners that are going to be half time.”
It’s pretty simple: the team comes first.
Former New York Yankees great and current Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly beautifully articulated the importance of being a good teammate in sports and life:
“Team sports are really difficult things. Sometimes your team wins because of you, sometimes in spite of you and sometimes it’s like you’re not even there. That’s the reality of the team game. Then at one point in my career, something wonderful happened. I don’t know why or how … but I came to understand what ‘team’ meant.
“It meant that although I didn’t get a hit or make a great defensive play, I could impact the team in an incredible and consistent way. I learned I could impact my team by caring first and foremost about the team’s success and not my own. I don’t mean by rooting for us like a typical fan. Fans are fickle. I mean care, really care about the team … about ‘us.’
“I became less selfish, less lazy, less sensitive to negative comments. When I gave up me, I became more. I became a captain, a leader, a better person and I came to understand that life is a team game. And you know what? I’ve found most people aren’t team players. They don’t realize that life is the only game in town. Someone should tell them. It has made all the difference in the world to me.”
In a statement about the Irving situation, the Nets said: “It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice. Our championship goals for the season have not changed, and to achieve these goals each member of our organization must pull in the same direction.”
Exactly. It’s all about being a teammate focused on helping and caring for others – on the court and in life.
Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports. For interview requests, click here.
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