Is Charles Barkley right athletes should get COVID vaccine first?


Fact Box

  • As of January 18, there have been 24.6 million coronavirus cases in the United states, with 408,237 reported deaths. 
  • The CDC recommends that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities should receive the first set of COVID vaccinations (1a). Phase 1b includes essential workers (grocery, manufacturing, food, teachers, etc.) as well as people older than 75. Phase 1c encompasses people older than 65, and those 16-64 with underlying conditions that put the individuals at risk.
  • On Thursday, January 14, NBA analyst Charles Barkley stated “athletes in the NBA, NHL, and NFL should get preferential treatment in getting the COVID-19 vaccine strictly for financial reasons.”
  • NBA players pay 37 percent on federal income taxes, 3 to 13 percent in state taxes, and jock taxes at about 3 percent. 
  • NFL and NBA players salaries average at $3.26 million while a typical household brings in $68,000 according to the Census Bureau.

Bertie (Yes)

It's doubtful Charles Barkley has ever been accused of stating an issue delicately. Last week, his comments regarding how NBA players/coaches should receive special treatment were no exception, and he's taken heat for it. Except that he's right.

He may wish he could reword his argument to sound less 'precious,' but the fact is, players SHOULD jump the queue on the vaccine, including because of their taxes. On average, the Federal Government collects around $450 million per year in taxes from NBA players alone. If you approach life from a “pay-to-play” outlook, it makes sense they shouldn't have to wait for the vaccine, given that they arguably funded a large part of the research for it. Aside from taxes, there are other economic reasons to consider. Non-postponement of games is a boost to local economies even with no fans present. One team has to fly to each game venue, stay in a hotel, eat hotel or local restaurant fare, etc.

The potential for 'super-spreaders' is another reason. NBA players are currently dropping like flies due to positive COVID tests and contact tracing. Again, one team has to fly to the venue. Asymptomatic or not-yet-positive players can potentially expose teammates, flight crew, other travelers, as well as hotel, restaurant, and venue staff before realizing they're doing so. Vaccination would effectively eliminate this risk, thus allowing the league to confidently continue play and injecting much-needed funds back into our economy, which, in turn, provides not only jobs, but tax revenue to continue fighting COVID.

He may be a blunt instrument, but Barkley just may well be right.

Andrew (No)

Charles Barkley’s idea that professional athletes should receive priority vaccination because they pay a lot of taxes is absurd and frankly offensive to millions of working people facing very real struggles. Barkley’s idea is a logical fallacy: since tax is calculated as a percentage of income, to say that someone is more deserving of services because they pay more in taxes is the equivalent of saying that the person paying more has more value to society. Surely we would all agree that all humans have intrinsic value, regardless of how much money we make. 

Athletes and those with enormous wealth have the luxury of being able to pay for private space and services like personal shoppers and deliveries. Many average Americans live in much closer proximity to one another and cannot afford many of the services that the wealthy use to keep themselves distanced from the virus. Those that cannot afford to shield themselves in this way should surely have priority.

While there is no doubt that we want athletes and coaches to be vaccinated so we can get back to watching the sports we love, there are many other sectors of our vital services and economy that really should take priority. Firefighters, law enforcement, and other non-medical first responders are critical to our safety and should get priority over athletes. Also, those who work in essential retail such as grocery stores, gas stations, public transport, and other critical services that see many customers each day should take precedence over athletes because they could become vectors for spreading the virus.

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