The Voiceless Are the People Who Are No Longer Here To Speak

The Voiceless Are the People Who Are No Longer Here To Speak
Photo Credit: Adam Hunger

Less than a week before the NBA opens the season, the question of Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status is a hot topic of discussion. Irving took to Instagram Live to further clarify his position. He stated that being unvaccinated is him being true to himself, and he’s aware of the consequences of his actions. Irving also indicated that he is neither pro nor anti-vaccine, and he respects doctors who continue to try to keep people safe and those who are vaccinated while also respecting those who aren't vaccinated and "are being mandated to do this and are losing their livelihood."

It was great to hear from Irving directly - not from alleged quotes or back channels. Yet, some things were still unclear - particularly where he sees his stature. He states he wanted to voice the voiceless yet doesn’t understand why he’s getting all this attention. If you're going to be a voice for the voiceless, why not speak for the 700,000+ Americans (and counting) who have lost their lives to the virus? Or the nurses and doctors that are overworked and quitting because hospitals are slammed with COVID patients? Elevate the workers around the country who are striking because they are paid sub-primal wages. How about standing for underserved communities who want to get the vaccine, but can’t? Millions of people lost jobs during and currently due to this continued onset of the pandemic, and it wasn’t their choice. The people that Irving is choosing to be a mouthpiece for, including himself, have a choice.

We hear from unvaccinated people all the time. From Irving’s fellow NBA players such as Orlando Magic’s Johnathan Issac, Washington Wizards Bradley Beal, and Golden State Warriors Andrew Wiggans. (he has since gotten vaccinated.) has said their thoughts on a public forum. We all hear the stories of unvaccinated people on their deathbed to take the vaccine or that they “wish they didn’t wait.” Both Black and Native American citizens of the United States have been dying at a higher rate from COVID. That’s children losing parents, parents losing children, and generations of people lost. Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl Anthony Towns lost six family members, including his mother, and had his nightmare battle with COVID. If anything, we should be shining more of a light on these types of stories.

Vaccine mandates aren’t exactly a new thing. They were enacted as early as1850s per the CDC, and by the 1900s, half of US states had a vaccine mandate. Duke University, the college that Irving went to in 2010, have vaccines required for entry and mandated that all students take the COVID vaccine. Diseases like polio, measles, chickenpox, and mumps are not moonwalking all over us because vaccines work. That’s what science does - it provides us tools to fight things like chronic illnesses, viruses, and diseases. Is it perfect? No. nothing is. But these vaccines have been rigorously tested and proven effective.

The irony in all this is that Irving doesn’t lose his job. He’s still a member of the Brooklyn Nets roster and will get paid for away games amounting to millions. He has plenty of platforms to use his voice, and many people recognize that it’s his choice not to take the vaccine. On the flip side, many private businesses, educational institutions, and enterprises have rules and requirements. If you don’t abide by them, you can’t partake in those activities — especially given the much higher chance of getting infected with COVID-19 if you’re unvaccinated.

This pandemic is the ultimate group project. Yet, the death toll for 2021 has surpassed the one for 2020 - even with free means to combat transmission. Developing countries around the world are praying for vaccine allotments. Yet, we have elected to elevate our individualism and contrarian nature as a source of rebellion. There’s a groundswell against scientific methods, recommendations, and experts because everyone wants autonomy. “How can you tell me what’s best for me?” As if we’re all pushing against an invisible curfew to stay out later. There are opinions and facts- and right now, it feels like the best thing is to dispute down the notion that 1+1=2.

For full disclosure, I think that Kyrie is intelligent. Last year, I wrote a post on this very newsletter, backing him for his social justice stance during the summer. Many of us didn’t feel that it was suitable for NBA games that consisted of primarily Black athletes to soldier on while we were dealing with the ramifications of the murder of George Floyd. It’s why this is so disappointing. Basketball is five people on the court at a time relying on each other to win the game. Much like this pandemic - we are all not on an island experiencing this. Instead, we give nurses and doctors a pat on the back for saving us as they tearfully plead for us to do the right thing - without doing the right thing.

I don’t want us to keep going on this merry-go-round of “you can’t tell me what to do” while more preventable caskets and gravesides are erected as the chorus of misinformation grows in harmony. Everybody does have a choice in what to do with their own bodies. But if we made them considering that someone else could benefit from informed deliberations, perhaps we still wouldn’t be hovering around 100,000 daily COVID cases a year and a half later.