New York City to let unvaccinated athletes play home games
NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s mayor will announce Thursday that he’s exempting athletes and performers from the city’s vaccine mandate for private workers, a move that will allow Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play home games and unvaccinated baseball players to take the field when their season begins.
Mayor Eric Adams will make the announcement Thursday morning and it will be effective immediately, according to a person familiar with the upcoming announcement who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
The city’s sweeping vaccine mandate for workers will still apply to people with other types of jobs, including government employees.
Adams had said he felt the vaccine rule was unfair when it came to athletes and performers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor, allowed visiting players and performers who don’t work in New York to still play or perform even if they are unvaccinated.
Irving, a vaccine holdout, had been among the most high-profile people impacted. He was able to re-join the team in January but only when they played out of town games.
Irving and Nets coach Steve Nash said they didn’t want to comment until after an official announcement. Irving scored 43 points Wednesday night on his 30th birthday in a 132-120 loss in Memphis after scoring a career-high 60 on March 15 in Orlando in the last game he was eligible to play. The Nets need him as they push for a playoff spot with nine games left in their regular season.
“It just turns the whole team around when he’s out there, so hopefully we get some good news,” Nets star Kevin Durant said.
This month, concerns had been raised that the rule would also impact Major League Baseball.
Yankees star Aaron Judge refused to directly answer a question about his vaccine status earlier this month, leading to speculation that another New York team would be hobbled by a player’s refusal to get inoculated.
When asked Wednesday about a possible vaccine exemption, Judge said he was “happy Kyrie can play some home games.”
“If the mandate is not there, it’s good for Kyrie,” Judge told The Associated Press during spring training in Tampa, Florida, adding he “wasn’t too worried” about the mandate’s effect on the Yankees.
The Yankees, who open their season at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 7, said earlier this month that the team president was “working with city hall and all other appropriate officials on this matter.” The Yankees declined comment Wednesday.
Adams, a Mets fan, is scheduled to make an “economic and health-related announcement” Thursday morning at Citi Field, where the Mets play, according to his official calendar that was released Wednesday night.
Adams has been rolling back vaccine mandates and other coronavirus restrictions, including on Tuesday when he said masks could become optional for children under 5 starting April 4.
Mask mandates for older children have already been removed, as well as rules requiring people to show proof of vaccination to dine in a restaurant, work out at a gym, attend a show, or go to an indoor sporting event.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made vaccination mandatory as a workplace safety rule last year, before leaving office.
All employers are supposed to bar unvaccinated workers from being in shared workplaces.
The city suspended numerous public employees for refusing to get vaccinated, including public servants like firefighters and sanitation workers.
The creation of special exemptions for athletes or entertainers could potentially lead to court challenges arguing the city isn’t applying the law evenly. ___
AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.