The Washington Wizards will begin their second full NBA season played during the coronavirus pandemic with a franchise cornerstone who is unvaccinated. At the team’s media day Monday ahead of the first day of training camp, Bradley Beal did not hesitate when asked if, after having to miss the Tokyo Olympics this summer because he contracted covid-19, he had been immunized.
“Oh, I am not vaccinated,” Beal said. “No, no.”
The NBA is following most other major American sports leagues and forging ahead this season without vaccine mandates for players. There will be different protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players that determine things such as testing frequency, mask requirements and quarantine timetables should a player test positive, but only referees and team personnel who work closely with players are required to be immunized.
Unmasked and speaking in a room with eight reporters and four Wizards staffers, all vaccinated and masked in accordance with team requirements, Beal initially declined to explain why he chose not to get the vaccine, citing personal reasons. But he spoke freely when asked about squaring his pro-mask attitude last season with his decision this year.
Beal regularly signed off Zoom sessions with reporters encouraging everyone to “stay safe and wear your mask.”
“Every player, every person in this world is going to make their own decision for themselves,” Beal said. “I would like an explanation to, you know, people with vaccines. Why are they still getting covid? If that’s something that we are supposed to highly be protected from, like it’s funny that it only reduces your chances of going to the hospital. It doesn’t eliminate anybody from getting covid, right? So is everybody in here vaxxed, I would assume? Right. So you all can still get covid, right?”
A reporter from NBC Sports Washington responded, “We’re less likely to die or go to the hospital,” echoing studies published this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One such study found that people who were not fully vaccinated this spring and summer were more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die of covid-19.
“Okay, but you can still get covid? Right,” Beal said. “And you can still pass it along with the vax, right? So I’m just asking the question.”
Beal’s unvaccinated status may not affect his playing time this season. While municipal ordinances in New York City and San Francisco prohibit unvaccinated players from participating in games, the rules do not apply to visiting players. In Washington, government employees, city contractors and public school and child-care workers will be required to be immunized or, in some cases, take weekly tests. There is no current mandate that would affect Wizards players.
Availability was one of a host of reasons other Washington players cited for receiving the vaccine, though to a man they all made sure to clarify they were not judging any teammates for any of their decisions regarding immunization.
“It’s all about, at the end of the day, it’s our job to be on the floor,” said Corey Kispert, the Wizards’ most recent draft pick, before confirming he is vaccinated. “So whatever you think is best for you in that regard and how you can get out there and compete, stay healthy throughout the season, that’s kind of the main objective and the main goal. It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out six months from now, because it looked a lot different six months ago.”
Not every Wizards player was asked if he is vaccinated, but most who were asked Monday said they had been immunized.
Presumed starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie confirmed he got the shot before smiling and saying under his breath, “Woo, no controversy here, baby.” Big man Montrezl Harrell said he received the coronavirus vaccine last season because he has young children at home and a family member on dialysis. Starting center Daniel Gafford told NBC Sports Washington over the summer that he received the Pfizer vaccine.
Forward Kyle Kuzma declined to share his vaccination status for personal reasons. When asked about the assumption that response prompts — that players who do not disclose their status have not received the vaccine — he said certain things should be kept private.
“For me, I think certain things in health or whatever you may go about, things should be personal, especially for us as athletes and the platform that we have,” Kuzma said. “We don’t get much private time and much freedom in that nature. I believe certain things should always be kept in the house. . . . It’s much better to stay as private as you can. That’s not a bad thing; that’s not a wrong thing to ask for.”
Beal was more willing to explain his thinking. He said he does not feel pressure to get vaccinated with the NBA’s coronavirus protocols in place, though he said, “They kind of make it difficult on us to kind of force us, in a way, to want to get it.”
But he was staunch in his belief that receiving a vaccine is his personal choice. That he has already contracted the disease, and missed out on winning a gold medal in Tokyo as a result, had no influence on his decision.
“My mom and dad are vaccinated. My older brothers are vaccinated. My sister-in-law is vaccinated. I know people that have people who are very close that are vaccinated just as well as I have people that are close to me, related to me, that are not,” Beal said. “So it’s a fine line. It’s a personal choice between everybody, 100 percent. I understand both sides of it. I understand that there is a percentage of people who can get very sick. I didn’t get sick; I didn’t get sick at all. I lost my smell. But that was it for me. Everybody is going to react different.”