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The parallels are uncanny. A prominent conspiracy theorist proudly lets misinformation fester, and when his supporters turn violent in the name of his cause, storming the very institution he represents, he goes silent.
When you are an NBA star whose season is ripped from ex-President Donald Trump's Jan. 6 playbook, you are doing something wrong. Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving should reconsider the company he is keeping.
In a scene reminiscent of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol nine months earlier, protesters chanting "no vaccine mandate" and "let Kyrie play" pushed past a barricaded Barclays Center entrance before Sunday's game against the Charlotte Hornets, forcing security to lock down the arena. One was armed with a pair of baseball bats. Another sported a swastika. Most were vocally anti-vaccination. No one was hurt, thankfully.
Irving, an opponent of New York City's COVID-19 vaccination requirement to play in Brooklyn, was nowhere to be seen on Sunday, also barred from the premises and mute to his 26 million followers on social media.
Irving claims to be "a voice for the voiceless," or at least that is what anonymous sources close to him had us believe in a story leaked to The Athletic's Shams Charania earlier this month. When Irving has lent his voice, he has spent an inordinate amount of time nonsensically circling a stance sans supporting evidence.
In light of Sunday's events, consider Irving's 25-minute anti-media rant on Instagram Live on Oct. 13. Long after he declared, "I do not talk to pawns," Irving again described the media as "puppets" to his 15.4 million Instagram followers, repeating in one form or another, "Nobody's going to hijack my voice. Nobody's going to take the power away from me that I have for speaking on these things. ... I'm real enough to stand up when I feel like I'm being put in an f'ed up position. ... I'm not going to be used as a person in this agenda."
Too late. Irving's voice was hijacked Sunday and leveraged for an anti-vaccination agenda, like it or not.
Irving should know this routine well by now, having once declared, "The Earth is flat," doubled down and urged everyone to "do your own research," which he admittedly conducted on Instagram. When a middle school teacher later detailed to NPR how Irving's misinformation spread to students, he finally apologized.
Irving has not learned that lesson. He has taken another misguided position, dismissed science and rallied support against reality. Sound familiar? Irving's "these dudes are puppets" is the new "corrupt, fake news."
"The way that they're trying to paint everything that's going on, I just want to try to stay aware that they're trying to use me as an example for some odd reason, continuing to go at this, go at that, but it's OK," Irving added on Oct. 13. "I'm gonna be OK, but the people who support me, just know, I'm rocking with you."
Only, Irving's loudest supporters have been Donald Trump Jr., U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and the hundreds of protesters involved in Sunday's unrest. The middle three words of Cruz's Sept. 29 statement — "I stand with Kyrie Irving" — were emblazoned on signs in Sunday's crowd. They have used him as their example for obvious reasons. He is becoming their puppet, their pawn. They are the voice for his voicelessness.
Irving's Twitter posts have made no clearer his beliefs. "My mask is off. Now take yours off. No fear." "Step into your power." "I am protected by God and so are my people. We stand together." And his pinned tweet:
Look at who stands in the way of True Peace and UNITY. Don’t @ me, go find out.
— A11Even (@KyrieIrving) March 6, 2021
The only unity Irving would have found outside his workplace on Sunday was people from all walks, some reportedly sporting "Black Lives Matter" shirts and others "Make America Great Again" hats, chanting his name in staunch opposition to a vaccine that has proven overwhelmingly effective against hospitalization and death from the coronavirus — all while the proudly unvaccinated slow serious efforts to stem the disease.
In his Instagram Live diatribe, which spanned the entire spectrum from, "You can't be on both sides," to, "I'm on both sides of all this," Irving said in his closing remarks, "This is not a political thing here. And it's not about the NBA. It's not about any organization. It's really about my life and what I'm choosing to do."
Only, it has become political, largely because Trump — despite being vaccinated himself — discredited government officials and medical experts tasked with safely delivering a solution to a pandemic he denied.
Irving's choice is not personal, either, especially not as an NBA star, which Sunday made clear. Your choice not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can impact your family, friends, coworkers and the community at large. Your choice could mean life or death for you and your neighbor. At what point does the certainty of more deaths now outweigh the possibility of adverse side effects from an FDA-approved vaccine in the future?
Irving is free to make his choice, but he should not be surprised when his inability to provide a supporting rationale beyond the stance itself threatens the very security sworn to protect him. You can imagine loops of newsreels from Jan. 6 playing front of mind for guards at Barclays Center on Sunday, all because their more influential coworker chose not to trust overwhelming scientific evidence, and nary a word from Irving.
He may not have asked for this, but with fame comes fans, and as Irving conceded earlier this month, "I'm responsible for that influence." Yet, he has been louder in his opposition to critics in the media than he has been of his misguided supporters on Sunday, and that speaks volumes about the company he is keeping.
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