LeBron James speaks out on all significant social and political matters, unless they relate to genocide, China, slave labor, or the deaths of police officers. Oh, and now there’s a new topic he won’t touch, COVID-19 vaccines. Per LeBron, that is “private” and none of our business.
Tuesday, a day after his comments were discussed at large, with nearly all of the media siding with LeBron, Stephen A. Smith reversed course. On First Take, Smith pleaded with LeBron to encourage Americans to get the shot.
“So we get back to LeBron James, and I say this to LeBron James, my brother, all of our brothers, who’s an incredibly, incredibly influential figure, I would say to him, he has taken positions on many, many, many things of incredible importance to our community,” Smith said. “One could easily argue when you see the number of deaths that have come associated with COVID-19, it’s very little that he has encountered that is more challenging or daunting than this, and if you could speak up about those things, you just might want to think about speaking up about this.”
On its face, I would never condemn athletes for avoiding a vaccine conversation. They have no obligation to participate in it. However, given LeBron’s history of injecting himself into nearly every political and social topic, sitting out one of this magnitude is puzzling and disappointing.
Few matters have been as important for the country, as a whole, as getting the vaccine is. Increasing the number of Americans who receive the vaccine (any of three available in the US) is the only path to reaching herd immunity and normalcy quickly. LeBron classified getting Donald Trump out of office as a matter of life and death — but the vaccines, in many cases, are literally a matter of life and death.
Smith cited the lack of black vaccinated citizens as the reason for his call to LeBron:
“If you look at the hospitals, and you look at people with pre-existing conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, and things of that nature, clearly when you look at that you see that the African American community is disproportionately affected, and something needs to be done,” he went on. “And when we look at the 50-plus million people who have been vaccinated, most happen to be white.
For context, there is a reported hesitancy in black Americans to get the vaccine. ABC News reports, as a result, estimates found 5.4% of those vaccinated are black.
Smith believes LeBron can encourage a substantial number of black Americans to receive the vaccine. I will take it a step further and say that LeBron could lead to a surge in vaccination acceptance among young adults of all races.
Many young Americans pay far more attention to LeBron than the CDC, Dr. Fauci, President Joe Biden, and other Washington politicians. Americans under 30, a demo that idolizes LeBron, are alarmingly reluctant to get the shot. Though this age group is at lower-risk of contracting COVID, it’s still highly recommended they receive the vaccine when available so that they are protected against spreading the virus.
In a recent survey concluded in January, 47% of adults under 30 said they would not get the vaccine if available to them. Only 17% of those over 50 would say no. (The report uses the word “if,” which applies only to those who have not received the vaccine. Therefore, essential workers under 30 who are already vaccinated may not have been factored in this study.)
LeBron may be a hypocrite, but he’s also incredibly influential and could have an invaluable impact on the fight against COVID. LeBron not only wasted an opportunity to make a change, his silence on the vaccine likely raised doubts about its safety among his supporters.
“If LeBron isn’t sure, maybe I’ll wait,” a few of his strongest supporters probably concluded.
The worst days of COVID are likely beyond us, but it’s not over yet. And all of us, white or black, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, male or female — would benefit from a quick return to normalcy, to life, to happiness. Few individuals can influence public opinion on matters like vaccinations, but LeBron is one of them. He opted not to.