About a year and a half ago, Rudy Gobert became the first National Basketball Association (NBA) player to test positive for COVID-19, forcing the league to shut down. After months of an NBA hiatus and the development of strict health and safety protocols, the season resumed and culminated in a Los Angeles Lakers championship. Now, with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, the NBA is attempting to return to its normal state with fewer protocols and restrictions. However, a growing movement of NBA players is fighting the vaccine and standing up against the NBA’s attempted mandate. 

In early October, the NBA declared that all coaches and staff are required to get the vaccine (with medical and religious exemptions), however they were unable to enforce this mandate throughout the NBA Players’ Association. The union is attempting to look out for the player’s rights, however the NBA believes that public health crises like these demand a take it or leave it approach. Currently, about 90% of the players across the league have received both doses of the vaccine, meaning there are about 40 players yet to be vaccinated. These players will undergo strict health and safety protocols similar to the “NBA Bubble” in Orlando as well as the 2020-2021 season. Furthermore, these players will be ineligible to play in New York, San Francisco, Toronto and any other city that decides to require a person to show proof of vaccination in order to enter certain indoor entertainment venues. Additionally, practically every stadium will require fans to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to enter the stadium, with increasingly strict regulations for those sitting within 15 feet of the court or benches. 

All time NBA leading point scorer and UCLA alumni Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a very definitive stance on the issue: get the vaccine. He firmly believes that it is an irresponsible decision on behalf of any player deciding to jeopardize their own health, their team’s health and potentially even their success.

“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in a Rolling Stone interview. “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research. What I find especially disingenuous about the vaccine deniers is their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet, if their child was sick or they themselves needed emergency medical treatment, how quickly would they do exactly what those same experts told them to do?”

NBA superstars such as Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal and Andrew Wiggins are leading this charge against the vaccination. Andrew Wiggins, who sought religious exemption from the vaccine, is now required by San Francisco law to get the shot. If not, he will be ineligible to play or attend practice. Frustrated with this development, Wiggins believes that he doesn’t owe anybody an explanation for his own personal beliefs. 

“Who are you guys where I have to explain what I believe, what’s right or what’s wrong,” Wiggins said to a group of reporters. “We are two totally different people. What you think is not what I think. What I think is not what you think.”

Famous for conspiracy theories, Irving is at it again. After being widely ridiculed for thinking that the Earth is flat, he is now liking and commenting on Instagram posts and accounts that claim COVID vaccines are a “plan of Satan” to connect Black people to a master computer. This misinformation is the exact lack of research that Abdul-Jabar was referring to, jeopardizing the health and safety of the league. But, with New York’s new vaccine requirements, Irving has been indefinitely banned from team practices, meetings and events. He will also be ineligible to compete at all home games, making this a pivotal decision in his career and sparking retirement rumors. But to him, it is bigger than basketball. 

“I never wanted to give up my passion, my love, my dream over this mandate and what’s going on in this world,” Irving said on an extended Instagram Live broadcast. “I love the game. Sometimes you really have to make choices that ultimately can affect that. It’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are in 2021. I am a bona fide hooper. My legacy will be written forever. I’m grateful to be given this talent to be able to perform on a high stage. But it’s not just about that at this point. It’s bigger than the game.”

In an effort to minimize the push back against the vaccine mandate, the NBA is inciting strict salary penalties for all unvaccinated players. This scare tactic consists of withholding pay for all games missed, simple as that. This means Kyrie Irving will lose about $425,000 per home game. Both Irving and Wiggins would be expected to lose over $15,000,000 in salary. The NBA hopes that these harsh salary reductions will help motivate the anti-vaxxers and bring the league vaccination rate to 100%. 

At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and they need to protect their image. They are returning to a normal 82 game format, meaning there will be limited room for COVID-19 postponements. Both the NBA and their sponsors would stand to lose millions of dollars and millions of impressions on rescheduled games. Ultimately, mandating the COVID vaccine is the smart financial decision as it will prevent these issues, but more importantly, it is the right thing to do as an individual. Every athlete should be vaccinated for the health and safety of the league, their teams and their communities and the NBA won’t rest until this is accomplished.

What is the value of a 2.5 by 3.5 inch piece of cardboard? To most, it is relatively worthless. But to the rapidly expanding, previously niche market of trading card collectors, those 8.75 square inches of cardboard are practically priceless. While it seemed as if technology and sports video games had rendered trading cards invaluable, this recent spike in popularity begs to differ.

A main contributor to trading card’s resurgence was the COVID-19 pandemic. People were stuck at home and finding new ways, increasingly profitable ways to spend their time. Trading cards became one of these avenues. As world renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that collecting serves as a means of imposing order in the world, and amidst the pandemic, people longed for normalcy. Additionally, Holly Schiff, a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders, explains this theory more thoroughly.

   “One element of collecting has to do with the ability to gain and exercise control, especially in uncontrollable circumstances — which the pandemic was the epitome of.”

The internet has also played a fundamental role in re popularizing trading cards. Card collectors no longer need to go to the store and buy a pack with the hopes of getting their favorite player, but ultimately only receiving a conciliatory stick of gum. Instead, trading card enthusiasts can now take to the internet and find their favorite players and rarest cards at their fingertips. This increased access to buying and selling trading cards has allowed for the market to develop and the collector’s economy to prosper. 

At the close of 2020, eBay released a report titled “State of Trading Cards” Report, detailing the rapid growth of this niche market sector. In 2020, eBay’s platform saw a 142% growth in their trading category as well as a 4,000,000 card increase in sales. In the past few months, countless records regarding trading card sales have been broken. With a 373% increase in sales, basketball cards have skyrocketed in value, allowing for LeBron James’ card to set the record for basketball cards, selling for a whopping $5.2 million. While baseball cards have always been the most popular form of athletic trading cards, their value has soared as well. Recently, a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card sold for a record-setting $5.2 million. Additionally, cards from popular games such as Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering had an approximated 574% increase in sales.

In order for these trading cards to hold their value, they must undergo a thorough inspection and grading process. The Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is responsible for the grading and authentication of all trading cards, before they are able to be assigned a value. Getting a card graded requires both time and money, with fees going for about 20 to 100 dollars per card and express fees ranging from 150 to 10,000 dollars. This process usually takes 5-6 months, but due to the impact of the pandemic it could take as long as a year. But if your card is graded a perfect PSA 10, it will be well worth it.   

When grading cards, in order to obtain a PSA 10, the card must exhibit sharp corners, sharp focus, and pristine gloss. The card can’t be stained, worn, torn, and the image must be perfectly centered on the front and back. The PSA inspector will study these minute details with magnifying instruments, gloves and intricate focus as they go down their laundry list of grading specifics, before passing it on to a second set of eyes to do the same. They study your card at a microscopic level in order to observe every little detail that goes unnoticed by the naked eye. Once your card is graded it can officially enter the market and be sought after by other collectors. While every collector aims for a perfect PSA 10, that state of Gem Mint condition is quite rare. Much more frequently, cards get grades of mint, near-mint, excellent, good or for the few collectors who let their cards get damaged, they might receive a poor grade, rendering their card practically valueless. 

With the increase in technology and downtime due to the COVID-19 pandemic, trading cards saw their resurgence in 2019-2020. Reaching peak popularity in the late 1980s, trading cards have come a long way since then and have become a viable investment option. With the popularization of other rival collectibles such as Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), it will be interesting to see how the collector’s market continues to develop and prosper for years to come. But regardless, hold on to those little pieces of cardboard, as their value truly might be priceless.

In 2001, Eric Crouch, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, violated NCAA rules and served a short-term suspension. Crouch was suspended for accepting a ham sandwich and short plane ride valued at $22.67 as a part of a brief public appearance for the university. In breaking NCAA rules regarding accepting outside benefits, Crouch became an integral part of an infamous sports debate, should college athletes be compensated?

Flash forward to 2021 and the landscape has shifted dramatically. Going into the 2021-2022 NCAAF season, University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young reportedly earned over $1,000,000 in endorsements before ever playing a single snap and Hercy Miller, an incoming freshman basketball player at the University of Tennessee, has reportedly signed a $2,000,000 deal. None of this would be possible without the NCAA’s expanded policies on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals for college athletes, providing a new world of opportunity for nearly 500,000 students across the country. 

After a 9-0 ruling in the Supreme Court Case NCAA vs. Alston, the association was finally prompted to stop resisting NIL deals. This past June, the NCAA announced drastic changes to this rule. According to the NCAA website, athletes can now engage in NIL activities in compliance with state laws and colleges can serve as a resource for NIL legal questions, athletes can use professional service providers to help navigate NIL activities, student athletes in states without NIL laws can still engage in such activities without violating NCAA rules and states, as well as individual colleges and athletic conferences may impose reporting requirements. 

Since this development, student athletes across the nation have quickly delved into the world of endorsements, signing with a myriad of different brands and providing them an opportunity to monetize their collegiate success. Athletes have signed endorsement deals with clothing brands, gyms, pet companies, and a few 300+ pound offensive linemen have even signed on to become the face of a handful of barbeque restaurants. At the heart of NIL, is social media. While being a star player on a nation’s top football or basketball team is certainly the most surefire way of expanding name recognition, athletes have begun leveraging social media platforms to collect NIL earnings. Various social media platforms including Instagram and Tik Tok have allowed athletes to develop and popularize their own personal brands in whatever creative medium they desire. This allows these athletes to gain attention and recognition, all from the power of their cell phones. 

 As student-athletes have suddenly shifted into small business owners, they have started to need outside help from accountants, attorneys and personal advisers. The NIL rules and regulations are complicated and the tax implications that follow are confusing, forcing athletes to hire additional help in order to ensure they don’t get in trouble with or suspended by the NCAA. In an effort to support this goal, UCLA has recently debuted the Westwood Ascent Program, a comprehensive NIL program designed to support the school’s student-athletes to build their personal brand and maximize their NIL opportunities. Westwood Ascent focuses on three fundamental pillars to each athlete: education, brand-building and monitoring and disclosure. These three pillars are designed to ensure these athletes success for years to come and Martin Jarmond, the Alice and Nahum Family Director of Athletics at UCLA, is expecting the university to be a leading contributor to the world of NIL deals and monetary success of student-athletes for years to come.

“We enthusiastically embrace Name, Image and Likeness,” Jarmond said in a UCLA press conference. “With the launch of Westwood Ascent, we’re well-positioned to be a leader in providing our student-athletes the tools to maximize their NIL opportunities in Los Angeles and beyond. The future is here.”

Jarmond and the entire athletic department have played an instrumental role in securing endorsement deals for UCLA athletes. Less than two months after the NCAA rule change, UCLA student-athletes had already signed over 50 endorsements. Quarterback Dorian Thompson Robinson is sponsored by Cameo, Jaylen Clark created his own cryptocurrency, Jake Kyman has signed over 22 deals, Norah Flatley is sponsored by HighKey Keto Mini Cookies and Emmanuel Dean is sponsored by Big League Chew. These are just a few of the countless endorsements UCLA athletes have signed and tangible proof of the Westwood Ascent Program’s success. While NIL deals revolutionized the college sports industry, student-athletes across the nation are now capitalizing on this expanded world of opportunities that is at their fingertips.