How to talk about vaccinated players

I've been reading a lot of media day stories trying to get hyped for the upcoming season and I am just dismayed by the stuff I am reading about vaccination among the players. Every single story I am reading is either players being asked why they are not vaccinated ("I feel like it is a personal choice") or players being asked how they feel about other players not being vaccinated ("I feel like it is their personal choice"). This is terrible messaging. 90% of the NBA players are vaccinated and countless players, execs and former players have talked about the importance of people getting the vaccine. And yet, here we are in the biggest media day of the year and all of the stories are somehow about how there are reasons not to get vaccinated. Despite the fact that 90% of the players don't even believe those reasons.

And the problem here is not the players or the NBA. It is the media and the fans and how we talk about vaccinated players. Because asking "How do you feel about players who are not vaccinated?" is just the wrong question to ask. Because it places the focus on the small minority of players who are not vaccinated, normalizes their behavior and invites the players who are vaccinated to defend the players who are not. Just a bad question to ask. Because most of us haven't really thought about how to approach vaccine status in conversation. And because there are several Celtics who are not vaccinated, I think we are in for several months of this here on CB.

And so with that, I would like to emphasize the two evidence-based ways to talk about vaccine status among players (evidence-based in the sense that they work to encourage the desired behavior, namely people getting vaccinated, while respecting people's ability to elect not to do so)

First Rule: ignore the players who are not vaccinated. Don't talk about them. Say nothing good or bad about them. Ghost them. Instead, talk about the guys who are vaccinated. If Kyrie can't play in any of his home games, don't talk about how he is selfish or a pariah. Talk about how good Patty Mills looks. If Wiggins can't play for the Warriors, talk about how much you are enjoying the play of Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody (or the career resurgence of Igoudala or OPJ). Talking to them in any way about their vaccine status at best normalizes it (because reasons not to get vaccinated become part of the news cycle). And at worst it makes them into a martyr - Wiggins looked kind of foolish when his religious exemption got turned down, but after his press conference today, he looks like a courageous guy who is willing to stand by his principles in the face of high scrutiny.

Example of how to use the first rule: I am so bummed that Josh Richardson isn't going to play in the home opener. I am so excited to see PP, Nesmith or Romeo get some real run in the home opener.

The reason for the first rule is a simple, research-based finding: when people are are anxious or uncertain this kind of shaming serves to make them more certain and less anxious about their decision - exactly the opposite of what is desired. In order to get people to change, you need to make getting vaccinated socially desirable. In the NBA that means heaping attention and praise on the players who are vaccinated. I guarantee you that being ignored has a much bigger impact on Kyrie than people hating on him.

Second Rule: Don't ask vaccinated players to comment on their peers' vaccination decisions. Instead, ask them about nationwide vaccine efforts. Say "Jayson Tatum, I know you went through COVID and elected to get the vaccine afterward. What would you say to people who want to get vaccinated but are feeling anxious about it? What made you get the vaccine?" In this way, you get the 90% of the NBA that is vaccinated on the side of the vaccination effort without asking them to turn on their peers.

This one is just common sense: we want the conversation to be about how normal and safe it is to get vaccinated. There's less we can do that here on CB, because we don't ask the questions. But maybe when we see stories like this we can highlight them?

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