Sports | October 4, 2021 3:12 pm

The Problem With the Draymond Green COVID Lecture No One Asked For

Despite winning plaudits from his colleagues, the Warriors forward did not give "the best statement on COVID since March 2020"

draymond green covid interview
At at a recent media day for the Golden State Warriors, Green defended the privacy of NBA players who won't do their part.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Draymond Green painted a puzzling picture at his media day with the Golden State Warrriors late last week, comparing his respect for Andrew Wiggins’s vaccine hesitancy to how teammates ought to broach paternity leave.

According to the 31-year-old power forward, “that [as in telling Wiggins to get vaccinated] would be like me telling him, ‘Yo your wife is going into labor. How dare you leave this team and not go tend to your wife … for what that could mean for this team?’ That’s something that’s personal to him. That’s health-related. That’s something that’s personal to his family. This is no different.”

Got all of that? Me neither. That confusingly worded bit of false equivalency just about sums up the majority of the press conference, where Green explained what the rest of us (the media, especially) are too foolish to understand: COVID-19 is a personal issue and a “political” issue, not a public health issue.

Green continued, “For someone who isn’t very into politics … when you make something so political and not everyone is into politics, then you can also turn those people off. You know? I think there is something to be said for people’s concern about something that’s being pressed so hard … you have to honor people’s feelings and their own personal beliefs. I think that’s been lost when it comes to vaccinated and unvaccinated. And it kinds of sucks that it’s been lost.”

What kind of sucks, actually, is that we’re still mired in a 20-month-long pandemic that has killed more than 700,000 Americans. That number includes members of the direct NBA family, like security official Noordin Said and reporter Sekou Smith. When Smith died, Green’s very own coach, Steve Kerr, said: “I know I speak for our entire organization, just crushing news today … I am just devastated.”

The reality, of course, is that the people who “made the pandemic so political” — to borrow Green’s words — are certainly not the people currently asking Wiggins, or other unvaccinated players like Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal, to get the shot.

They’re not the doctors, trainers, scientists and first responders who’ve spent the better part of two years doing everything they can to stop this virus. Imagine what it must feel like to these medical professionals, after another week of shitty sleep and dealing with very real pandemic PTSD, to hear a man who makes $24 million a year playing basketball offer extemporaneous, poorly researched opinions on why people should feel emboldened to skip the vaccine?

Make no mistake: the comments from Green — which may reflect his own beliefs, or could’ve been uttered as a headline-grabbing defense for Wiggins and Irving — are purposeful nonsense. Neither Green, nor Cole Beasley, nor Nicki Minaj are spending nights combing through clinical trials on PubMed. If they did, they’d find what medical professionals have been saying all along: the vaccine does exactly what it’s designed to do, and 99% of all COVID deaths now occur among unvaccinated people.

It’s easier, in the absence of knowledge or facts, to lean back on flashpoint one-liners. Later on in the interview, Green said, “You say we live in the land of the free? [This] goes against everything that America ‘supposedly’ stands for.” Also: “I’m not going to ask him if he got a polio vaccine, so why would I ask if he got a COVID vaccine?”

None of those words mean anything. They’re the verbal equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling like a child, and they’re a product of the same “vaccinated versus unvaccinated” cultural war that Green claims to despise. If he could takes his fingers out of his eyes for a second and listen, he’d hopefully learn that that the most admirable thing he could do as a team leader is not look the other way.

According to Kerr, Wiggins just got his first shot. We don’t know yet how or why he was convinced to do so, but it likely has something to do with the NBA’s salary reduction mandate for unvaccinated players. To enter any gym New York and San Francisco, individuals need proof of a COVID vaccine. That includes Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center and Chase Center, and means unvaccinated players for the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or Golden State Warriors would miss all home games this season. Following an agreement with the NBA Players Association, these players will now lose millions — up to $15 million for Irving, who remains unvaccinated.

It’s a win for the NBA front office, which has worked tirelessly to get players vaccinated. The league has provided personal presentations with data on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, floated relaxed locker room protocols for those who do get the shot and even discussed postseason incentives (the largest of which emerged with the salary reduction mandate; it figures to be difficult to make the NBA Finals when your star point guard plays 40 games or fewer).

By and large, this has worked. The NBA has achieved a 95% vaccination rate amongst its players, which is a sigh of relief for the thousands of other employees across the league — the assistant coaches, the vendors, the security staff — who make far less money, must get vaccinated and don’t have the pleasure of lecturing the press whenever they feel like want to drop some truth bombs. Like Draymond Green, these people aren’t epidemiological experts. But they’re preoccupied with legitimate concerns ahead of this season: What if there is an outbreak? How can I protect my two-year-old who has asthma? Do I have to put off visiting my aging mother until next June?

Even LeBron James, the league’s empathetic metronome in recent years, seems confused on this point. He retweeted the video of Green’s statement (uploaded, by the way, by former MLB player Gary Sheffield’s son, who appears to have randomly become a sort of “Ben Shapiro but sports” type) with the caption “Couldn’t have said it any better!”

I would hope he could’ve. There’s a go-to mantra unvaccinated players have become accustomed to dishing out at press conferences: “This is bigger than basketball.” The point, apparently, is that whatever conclusion they’ve reached on the COVID vaccine is unimpeachably profound. We can’t understand it and we shouldn’t ask. It’s “personal.” But the real meaning is hiding just below the surface: “I am bigger than basketball … and a once-in-a-century pandemic.”

Is it even worth trying to reach these players? After all, as one beleaguered NBA staffer said of the league’s remaining unvaccinated players: “We tried everything. None of it mattered.”

In the end, of course it is. For better or worse, athletes have followers in the millions. Reporters ask them 35 questions a day in live broadcasts shown all over the world. What they do or say matters, and has consequences. The cowardice from a few in their ranks is disappointing. The ignorance is excruciating. But sports leagues are a microcosm of society. As long as the shots keep coming for players, and people out there understand that Green is wrong (real leadership and sacrifice could be described as ending a global humanitarian disaster, not blithely allowing it to continue), our nation hopefully won’t be far from behind.

Basketball is life, but to properly enjoy it, it helps to still have one to live.