Kyrie Irving may be setting franchise records in Orlando, but he still can’t play home games for the Brooklyn Nets. And the mayor’s office confirmed this week that the same private-sector employee vaccine mandate keeping Irving off the court would also apply to any unvaccinated Met or Yankee when the season mercifully begins on April 7. While we don’t know precisely how many members of the two teams are unvaccinated, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said over the weekend that the Yankees had “a few guys” who hadn’t gotten jabbed — 15 months after vaccines became available. The team’s roster has changed some over the last few days, but it appears the number of unvaxxed players is still not zero.
Aaron Judge was asked earlier this week if he’s been vaccinated, and his response mostly got a lot of attention because it didn’t contain the word yes:
But the end of that clip is telling, too. “So many things could change,” he said. Perhaps he’s referring to the fact that unvaxxed players could, you know, get vaccinated between now and opening day. But more likely, he’s referring to the mandate.
And indeed, on Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams said that he’d be working toward some sort of “solution” and would look to “peel back” the law currently sidelining unvaccinated New York athletes in the city:
“We’re going to do an analysis. Baseball season is not tomorrow. It’s not next week. We are going to work this out. We will ensure the safety of New Yorkers without continuing the spread of COVID,” he said Wednesday.
“I’m looking forward to speaking to Major League Baseball, as we put our heads together with our medical team and figure out how we come up with a solution here. That’s my goal. My goal is to come up with a solution where we’re safe, to get our economy back up and operating and don’t change the progress we have made.”
Adams didn’t get any more specific than that and hasn’t committed to changes that would let Irving or any unvaccinated ballplayers return to playing home games. So what can we learn from the mayor’s comments? For one thing, as much as he claims to be working on his own timeline and not that of any sports league, he knows that there isn’t much pressure to act until closer to opening day. (The other looming date on the calendar, the start of the NBA playoffs, arrives soon after.)
The Yankees say they’ve been “working with City Hall” on the matter, and Adams also said Wednesday that he’d consult with experts about whether playing a sport outdoors mitigates the risk enough to warrant a change to the existing rule. That would be good news for the Mets and Yankees but not for the Nets.
But those mentions of a “solution” suggest there could be a path back to home games for unvaccinated New York athletes sometime between now and then. (An exception to the law? A swab before every at-bat? Kyrie plays in a KN95?)
Adams, for what it’s worth, is hardly thrilled with the status quo. He’s said that it wouldn’t be fair to offer athletes an exception to the mandate. But he also acknowledged last month that it wasn’t fair that unvaccinated players on opposing teams could play in New York but not ones from local squads. And there’s something undeniably inconsistent about the fact that, thanks to the recent change allowing unvaccinated fans into sporting events, Irving can watch the Nets play from the Barclays Center stands — which he did during a nationally televised game against the Knicks over the weekend — but can’t play a game there.
Boone said today that he’s “not concerned” with the rule that, as currently written, would keep members of his own team from playing in half their games (on top of the ones in Toronto they’re also barred from participating in because of Canadian restrictions). Does he know something we don’t know?