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NBA star, college football coach challenge vaccine policy

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From locker rooms to practice courts to playing fields, diamonds and gyms, the sports world has made its way through the pandemic with something of an oath, uttered both silently and loudly.

Whatever it takes.

In the beginning, it was consistent COVID testing, a bubble and no fans. Since then, it’s been contact tracing, hyper vigilance, and discipline among players, coaches and officials alike at all levels.

As a result, virtually every major sport has been able to complete some semblance of a season and declare champions.

In the case of the NBA and WNBA, they’ve been able to do so twice and baseball is on the verge of joining them.

Since the winter, there’s been one other component: a vaccine. While a shot has not destroyed the coronavirus, it has largely made the impossible, namely playing the games with spectators in attendance, possible.

Though officials have mostly been unable to compel vaccinations, most leagues and organizations have been effective in making non-compliance so arduous as to essentially make an appointment with the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines mandatory.

Compliance rates have been close to unanimous, but there have been rather notable exceptions, two of which appear to be willing to take on rather onerous potential sanctions, not to mention the scorn of those around them.

Nick Rolovich has so far ignored a mandate for employees in the state of Washington, to get the shot.

What makes him different from, say, a policy wonk or DMV test administrator is Rolovich is the head football coach at Washington State University.

As such, Rolovich is a role model for impressionable young college minds, not to mention, at $3 million per year, the highest-paid state employee in Washington. Despite entreaties and pleadings from his college coach, June Jones, to get vaccinated, Rolovich has so far resisted, thus becoming the only coach in the so-called Power 5 conferences, representing more than 60 schools, not to be vaccinated.

Rolovich is reportedly seeking a religious exemption, but, if he doesn’t get it, he faces an October 18 deadline to get into compliance, or possibly face dismissal.

Meanwhile, the NBA’s Kyrie Irving is staging a silent, but prominent dissent against vaccination.

Irving, a guard with the Brooklyn Nets, is one of the league’s best players, a champion in his days in Cleveland, and a budding actor.

But Irving, who has previously latched onto conspiracy theories that the world is flat, has declined to answer why he does not want to be vaccinated.

Irving’s refusal to be vaccinated places him at odds with New York City law, which requires shots for indoor events – no exceptions.

His stance could make him ineligible to practice or play in the city, taking him potentially out of 44 of the Nets’ 82 games this season. That would mean that Irving would lose his game day check of more than $400,000 for each time he does not suit up in the season, which starts next week.

Everyone should do whatever it takes legally to adhere to their beliefs. We’ll soon find out if Nick Rolovich and Kyrie Irving are literally willing to pay the price that comes with that adherence.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Get in touch:

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Email: sportsatlarge@gmail.com

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.