Pro athletes and leagues are sometimes at odds over vaccines, much like the rest of America
Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT) June 27, 2021
(CNN)Professional athletes have shown over the past few years they are not afraid to speak out on their beliefs.
Athletes around the world protested or refused to play in the name of racial justice. Leagues have taken a stance when it comes to policies that may negatively impact the very fans they hope to entertain, such as Major League Baseball recently pulling its All-Star Game out of Georgia because of its restrictive voting laws. And just this week, the first active NFL player announced that he is gay.
Now, like communities across the country, some sports teams and players are grappling with another hot-button issue: Vaccine hesitancy.
"I may die of covid, but I'd rather die actually living," Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley said June 18 in a series of tweets questioning the vaccine. "A lot of other NFL players hold my position as well but aren't in the right place in their careers to be so outspoken."
The leagues are working to increase vaccines to return to some type of pre-Covid normalcy, and they often want to lean on their star players -- among whom health officials call "trusted messengers" -- to encourage vaccinations while offering incentives such as relaxed Covid protocols for vaccinated players.
Some pro athletes have been more than willing to roll up their sleeves and post about it on social media, but others are still questioning, resistant or hesitant, putting them at odds with the pro-vaccine messaging marketed by the leagues.
Star athletes are often the face of a franchise or league, and endorsement or hesitancy can sway the minds of tens of thousands of uncertain fans, according to Dr. Jonathan Fader, sport and performance psychologist.
"The sports world is really a microcosm of our larger society," said Dr. Jarrod Spencer, sports psychologist and author of "Mind of the Athlete: Clearer Mind, Better Performance."
The US is at a point where every shot in an arm could make a difference in overcoming the pandemic and ensuring a return to normalcy. The White House said Tuesday it will fall short of President Joe Biden's goal of getting 70% of adults in the US with at least one shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4 but is on track to hit that number by mid-July. It wants to focus on young adults, particularly those 18 to 26 years old, who have a lower vaccination rate than older groups.
Professional athletes are typically under age 35. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said the intent to be vaccinated is lower among younger adults. Only about half under the age of 30 said that they had been vaccinated or plan to do so, a CDC study found. And for many, experts say, it may not be a priority.
Though the vaccine has been proven safe, those who are hesitant about the vaccine list not knowing the long-term effects, government overreach and a simple lack of desire to get one, experts say. This has led to political, ethical and moral debates about vaccinations.
CNN examined the protocols for the NBA, NFL and MLB, and here is how they -- along with their respective athletes -- have been handling vaccinations and Covid protocols:
The leagues are promoting vaccines with stars' help
The NBA, NFL and MLB have said 85% is the magic number when it comes to deciding whether a team is fully vaccinated.
Any team that reaches the 85% threshold for players and staff can relax protocols, the leagues say. All 32 NFL teams have players and staff that are 90% vaccinated, according to league spokesman Brian McCarthy.