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Jonathan Isaac addresses his stance on the COVID-19 vaccination

Isaac said he’s not anti-vax but believes it should be a personal choice that’s free of ridicule

Orlando Magic v Washington Wizards Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Jonathan Isaac in recent years has been forced to discuss off-the-court topics more regularly than anything basketball related.

That’s mainly because injuries have robbed him of much of the last two seasons. But it’s also because of his decision to adhere to and fight for his convictions.

In July 2020, Isaac’s return from a knee injury that sidelined him for seven months was overshadowed by his decision to stand during the National Anthem while his teammates and opponents knelt in protest of racial injustice.

On Monday at Orlando Magic Media Day, Isaac answered questions regarding his decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a decision that potentially could lead to missing games depending on the NBA’s protocols in various cities. His response came days after he was labeled “proudly unvaccinated” in a Rolling Stone article on the NBA’s anti-vaxxers that Isaac said on Monday “badly misrepresented.”

“I am not anti-vax, I’m not anti-medicine, I am not anti-science,” Isaac told reporters Monday. “I didn’t come to my current stance by studying Black history or watching Donald Trump press conferences (as the story states). I have nothing but the utmost respect for every healthcare worker and person in Orlando and all across the world that have worked tirelessly to keep us safe. My mom has worked in healthcare for a really long time. I thank God and I’m grateful that I live in a society where vaccines are possible, and we can protect ourselves and have the means to protect ourselves.

“But with that being said, it is my belief that the vaccine status of every person should be their own choice. Completely up to them without bullying, without being pressured, without being forced into doing so. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m uncomfortable with taking the vaccine at this time. We’re all different. We all come from different places. We’ve all had different experiences and hold dear to different beliefs. And what it is you do with your body when it comes to putting medicine in there should be your choice, free of the ridicule and the opinion of others.”

Professional athletes who work in the public eye are rarely free of ridicule, even regarding matters or beliefs that many would argue should be considered private.

Isaac, set to return from a torn ACL that cost him all of last season, spent nine minutes of his 12-minute press conference answering questions about vaccinations and bus status as the Magic’s lone unvaccinated player.

What is it about the vaccination that makes him hesitant?

“I would start with I’ve had COVID in the past and so our understanding of antibodies, of natural immunity has changed a great deal from the onset of the pandemic and is still evolving,” Isaac said. “I understand that the vaccine would help if you have COVID, you’ll be able to have less symptoms from contracting it. But with me having COVID in the past and having antibodies, with my current age group and physical fitness level, it’s not necessarily a fear of mine. Taking the vaccine, like I said, it would decrease my chances of having a severe reaction, but it does open me up to the albeit rare chance but the possibility of me having an adverse reaction to the vaccine itself. I don’t believe that being unvaccinated means infected or being vaccinated means uninfected. You can still catch COVID with or with not having the vaccine. I would say honestly the craziness of it all in terms of not being able to say that it should be everybody’s fair choice without being demeaned or talked crazy to doesn’t make one comfortable to do what said person is telling them to do.

“I would say I’m hesitant at this time but at the end of the day I don’t feel that it is anyone’s reason to come out and say well this is why or this is not why, it should just be their decision. Loving your neighbor is not just loving those who agree with you or look like you or move in the same way that you do. It’s loving those who don’t.”

What makes this vaccine different from other vaccines that he probably already has had?

“When it comes to other vaccines, I think it’s pretty simple to really taking any modern medicine, I think that that too should be your free choice,” Isaac said. “If I had to take anything when I was a kid it was the free choice of my parents of whether or not to give it to me. I’m not anti-science, I’m not anti-modern medicine. If I get sick enough I’m going to the doctor. If my wife, when we do have kids, I’m not going to deliver the baby myself, I’m going to take her to the hospital. So, it really does come down to just believing that it’s a free right of us as individuals to take it or not.”

What are his thoughts on the NBA’s stringent protocols for unvaccinated players?

“When it comes to the NBA and them having restrictions or rules in place, the NBA is free to make those decisions, and I as a member of the NBA will follow suit with whatever protocol is set before us,” Isaac said. “If the NBA is to give us regulations like we can’t maybe sit at the same part of the plane as the other players or eat in the same room as the other players, I guess my only thought on that would be I don’t think it would logically follow for us to then play on the same court and share the same ball and bump chests and do all those things. So, if the NBA is going to do those things I would honor it, but at the same time I would ask that it doesn’t seem logically consistent.”

Does he feel internal pressure to get the vaccine so he is available to play?

“Getting the vaccine is not the only way to protect the people around you,” Isaac said. “I think it’s an option. I think it’s a good option with anyone who has done it. I see it as those who have decided to take it as those who have decided to take it. But there are other measures to take to protect people around you, like all of you are wearing masks, I’m sure all of you are vaccinated. Being socially distant or being wise to wash your hands. All of the things that the CDC and other people have told us to do to protect ourselves. I believe that the vaccine is an option, I don’t think it’s 100 percent necessary to think about protecting the people around you.”

How much did Isaac’s religion factor into his decision?

“When it comes to being religious, I think God calls us all to be wise,” Isaac said. “I think there are people who believe that Jesus is alive, that he’s a protector, that’s he’s a healer, that’s he’s a friend, that you can trust him before you trust in any man. I’m not ashamed to say I’m one of those people. But at the end of the day, God calls us to be wise and lean to our own convictions on what it is that we want to do, and that’s how I feel about the vaccine. Everyone should be free to make their own decision and choice. And I feel that God could be leading two different people in the same place in two completely different directions. And if their conviction is as a believer or as any faith that I decided to take the vaccine, then I’ll stand with them. If there’s anyone that says based on my belief and my conviction, I don’t want to take it, I would be right there to stand with that person as well.”

What was his teammates’ reaction to his decision not to get vaccinated?

“When it comes to my teammates, coaches, everybody, to be honest, no one has really cared,” Isaac said. “I haven’t had any conversations with teammates on whether or not I’m vaccinated or not. Or whether or not they’re vaccinated or not.”

That was a sentiment that Cole Anthony also expressed when asked about Isaac’s belief.

“I mean, look, JI is a grown man,” Anthony said. “Anyone who is willing to stick to his convictions that strongly, I gotta support him. Do I potentially really agree with what he has to say? I mean, I might not agree with it, I might agree with it. Look, he’s a grown man, I’m a grown man. He’s gonna do what’s best for him, I’m gonna do what’s best for me. At the end of the day we’re teammates, so I’m gonna support him through thick and thin.”

Isaac was asked some questions unrelated to the vaccine to open his presser. He said he is pleased with his recovery and seeing progress both in his knee and his overall game and strength. He added that working each day alongside Markelle Fultz, who is also rehabbing from a torn ACL, has allowed them to “feed off each other.”

Isaac is also prepared to embrace a leadership role with what will be a young Magic team.

“When it comes to this group, I think it’s getting it in our heads that we can do bigger, we can do better in every single sense of the words,” Isaac said. “So, as we take on training camp and come together with these young guys and new coach and put things together, my biggest thing is putting this belief out there that we can be great. That greatness can happen in Orlando. That championships can happen in Orlando. And it will just be up to us to do what it takes.”