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Sports Chat: How Soon Should Athletes Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And, no matter the news, it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: A COVID vaccine is here. Should athletes be considered almost essential workers and receive it earlier than some other Americans? And no less than Coach K questions playing college basketball during a pandemic. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. Tell us about this NHL - a report that they've been trying to buy vaccines for hockey players.

BRYANT: Well, it was a preliminary report that suggested that if there was a vaccine that was available, that the NHL would essentially try to purchase it for their 750 players. And it was immediately sort of recorrected to say, well, no, no, no, we're not trying to skip the line. We're simply saying if it's available for private purchase, then the league would do it. I found it fascinating in some ways because this is going to be the question, the who is going to get the vaccine, who's going to be available - who it's going to be available for and where sports fits in this. Once more, to - if we remember at the beginning of the pandemic, the question was to shut down sports completely. And then colleges, the NCAA tried to assume that the athletes were essential. And so...

SIMON: Well, and there were also questions raised - you know, how come all these athletes are getting COVID tests whenever they want?

BRYANT: Well, exactly. I was going to say - exactly. And then when baseball started, you had players like DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees saying he was tested 11 times. And the question was, well, no one else can even get tested. How are you being tested daily? And so once again, the sports, the necessity of sports - on the one hand, I understand some of this logic simply because we should remember at the beginning of the pandemic that a lot of people didn't even take it seriously until the NBA shut down and then the rest of the sports shut down. But at the same time, there's also this question of equity, fairness and is this really necessary.

SIMON: What about the argument I heard this week that athletes - specifically they mentioned NBA players - should notably, publicly get vaccinated as soon as possible because that will have the net effect of encouraging people to get vaccinated?

BRYANT: Well, once again, I understand the logic. I'm not sure I agree with that, especially when you think about the question - especially when you think about colleges as well, the idea that these players, these athletes have been treated essentially as fungible anyway. And so with all of the distrust and with all of the questions - first, on the one hand, we're going to say, well, why are they being able to skip the line? And then on the other hand, we're going to say, well, should they - why are they being essentially sacrificed for this? So I understand the logic in some ways because people do pay attention to these athletes. They have enormous visibility. On the other hand, are we placing sports in such an important level that it's completely undeserved and sort of - it's far too skewed for the importance of the conversation?

SIMON: And, Howard, no less than Duke's Coach Mike Krzyzewski says maybe the college basketball season just shouldn't go on.

BRYANT: Also, very good question. When you look at the number of teams that aren't playing in the NFL, you look at the number of games - there are numerous teams out there in college basketball that haven't even played their first game yet. I was happy to see Coach K make that sort of a public conversation because people seem to be very comfortable playing with these sort of figure-it-out-as-we-go-along rules. It's something that maybe we should pay more attention to.

SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant - Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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