Unvaccinated athletes can play at home in New York

NEW YORK – The mayor of New York has exempted athletes and entertainers from the city’s vaccination mandate after weeks of pressure from the sports world after the rule prevented Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving from playing games at home and had to prevent several baseball players from taking the field in their next season.

Mayor Eric Adams, speaking at Citi Field where the Mets play, said Thursday he had signed the order. The exemption took effect immediately.

“I’m going to make tough choices. People will disagree with some of them. said Adams. “I have to move this town forward.”

Adams argued that exempting athletes and entertainers was important to the city’s economic recovery, saying “players bring people to the stadium.”

The city’s broad vaccination mandate for workers will still apply to people in other types of jobs, including private workers and government employees. Critics of the mayor’s decision, including several public service unions whose members were fired for refusing to be vaccinated, criticized the mayor for appearing to lift the rule only for athletes of the rich and famous.

The Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group of unions that together represent about 350,000 city workers, said the city should provide a way for laid-off workers to get their jobs back.

“There can’t be one system for the elite and another for the essential workers in our city. We are ready to work out the details with the mayor, as we have been throughout this process,” said group chairman Harry Nespolli.

The city’s largest police union, which sued the city over the warrant, said its officers “do not deserve to be treated like second-class citizens.”

“We’ve been suing the city for months over its arbitrary and capricious vaccine mandate — that’s exactly what we’re talking about. If the warrant isn’t needed for famous people, then it isn’t needed for the cops protecting our city in the midst of a criminal crisis,” its president, Pat Lynch, said.

Last month, the city fired more than 1,400 workers who failed to comply with the vaccination mandate. The uneven enforcement could likely invite more legal challenges over the course of the term.

Adams’ predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, made vaccinations mandatory as a workplace safety rule last year, before leaving office.

Jay Varma, de Blasio’s health adviser, said in a tweet that the mandate had legal standing because it applied to everyone.

“#VaccinesWork…unless you’re rich and powerful, in which case #LobbyingWorks,” Varma wrote. He added: “The #KyrieCarveOut opens City up to having the entire plan struck down by the courts as ‘arbitrary and capricious’.”

Adams had said he felt the vaccine rule was unfair to athletes and performers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor, allowed visiting players and performers who do not work in New York to continue playing or performing even if they are not vaccinated.

Irving, a vaccine resistant, had been among the most prominent people affected. He was able to join the team in January, but only when they played out-of-town games. When New York lifted rules requiring a vaccine for dining out, working out at a gym or attending a show several weeks ago, Irving was allowed to watch Nets home games but not play or enter the changing rooms.

The Nets need him as they push for a playoff spot with nine games left in their regular season.

Concerns had been raised that the rule would also impact Major League Baseball.

Yankees star Aaron Judge declined to directly answer a question about his vaccination status earlier this month, suggesting another New York team would be hampered by a player’s refusal to to get vaccinated.

Asked about lifting the rule on Wednesday, the judge said he was “happy that Kyrie could play home games.”

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 to comment Wednesday.

New York Mets owner Steve Cohen gave $1.5 million to a political action committee supporting Adams during his 2021 campaign. Adams is a Mets fan.

Adams has rolled back vaccination 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 scrapped, along with rules requiring people to show proof of vaccination to dine at a restaurant, work out at a gym, catch a show or attend a indoor sporting event.

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