NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving and other unvaccinated athletes will be allowed to play professional sports in New York City under a major policy change Mayor Eric Adams is poised to announce Thursday, people familiar with the matter confirmed.
Adams has been relaxing Covid-19 policies instituted by former Mayor Bill de Blasio since taking office Jan. 1, as he seeks to resume a sense of normalcy in the pandemic-ravaged city.
On Thursday the mayor is expected to declare his decision to reverse the private-sector vaccine mandate specifically for performers and athletes in local venues, including Barclays Center — home to the Brooklyn Nets — and both Citi Field in Queens and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
The news comes on the heels of Adams’ announcement Tuesday that he plans to lift the mask mandate for toddlers in city daycare centers on April 4.
It also comes in advance of the start of baseball season. The Mets home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks is scheduled for April 15, and the Yankees are hosting the Boston Red Sox on April 7. Players who have been coy about their vaccination status on both teams have been awaiting news out of City Hall, following Nets star Kyrie Irving’s suspension from home games due to the city’s rules.
Adams, who has urged Irving to get the shot, demurred when asked Wednesday about reports that the point guard has been participating at the Nets facility.
“As we stated, the name of the game is that we’re not going to be heavy-handed with the private sector mandate,” he told reporters at an unrelated press conference. “We’re not going to run around the buildings and check vaccine cards.”
“If Kyrie Irving is practicing, I’m not at the sports facility. The attorneys can tell us if he can practice or not, if he’s in violation of that or not,” Adams added. “I’ll speak with my attorney to see if it is or isn’t.”
A mayoral spokesperson declined to comment.
Among those lobbying City Hall on behalf of the Nets are The Parkside Group and former City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, according to public record. The Mets is owned by Steve Cohen, who donated $1.5 million to a political action committee backing Adams in the Democratic primary last year. Johnson advised Adams’ mayoral transition.
During his final month in office, de Blasio expanded his “Key to NYC” regulations governing vaccine mandates for children and private-sector workers. Adams lifted the requirement for patrons on March 7, the same day he ended the in-school mask rule for children ages 5 and older.
The news — which comes one week after Adams said he expects to eventually roll back the city’s mandates for all private-sector employers — was criticized by City Hall’s former Covid-19 senior adviser Jay Varma, who also worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I think the same rules on vaccination should apply uniformly to all,” Varma said in an interview. “If there’s a carveout for this group, why can’t any other group then raise its hand and say, I deserve a carveout too.”
“Basically it sends a message that this is an arbitrary rule — that if you’re rich enough and powerful enough and high profile enough, that you don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Varma added.
One person familiar with the policy announcement pushed back, noting it was de Blasio who did not extend this mandate to out-of-state athletes playing in New York.
“This is about leveling the playing field and making sure the rules apply equally to everyone who is a performer, no matter where you’re from,” said the person, who requested anonymity to speak freely about a proposal before it is announced. “The last administration created special carveouts that specifically hurt New York businesses and independent venues.”
Just last week Adams said there wouldn’t be any special carveouts for athletes.
“Everyone is focused on the sports area. They’re focusing on one person. I’m focusing on 9 million people,” the mayor said on March 16. “I’m not looking at one person. I’m looking at my city not closing down again.”
Joe Anuta and Amanda Eisenberg contributed to this report.