April 21, 2020

Oh, Novak

I'm sure I'm not the only person who was surprised to learn this week that Novak Djokovic is an anti-vaxxer.

Regarding the possibility that players would be required to inoculate themselves against the coronavirus when play resumes, the current world #1 and hugely influential superstar, raised some eyebrows when he said Sunday in a live Facebook chat, "Personally I am opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel."

He did suggest that his personal beliefs might have to change if such rules are implemented and he wasn't able to play, but the general message certainly hit a lot of people hard. One prominent epidemiologist in Nole's homeland cautioned him against making such statements, given how much of a following he has.

Of course, some of this discussion is moot since there isn't currently a vaccine for COVID-19, and one might not become available until next year. If officials decide to make vaccination mandatory -- something that isn't yet in the books, but was vocally supported by two-time Major winner Amelie Mauresmo last month -- it could be a looooong time before we get back on court, way beyond the current mid-July return that's currently on the books.

Yes, that would suck, but the alternative is probably worse.

Tennis is obviously an international sport, with players, fans, and everyone involved in the community traveling not just from state to state, but across the world, week after week. That not only exposes them to the virus, but could bring whatever potential latent germs and bacteria they're carrying to areas that either might not have been hit hard yet or which had been starting to get on the right side of the curve.

Those concerns, like everything these days, extend far beyond tennis. I often find myself wondering how long after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted I'll feel comfortable going back to the gym, the movies, on vacation. And for players who, while free from continuous physical contact with their opponents like in other sports, nevertheless are still surrounded by tons of people in far more remote locations, it makes sense to guard against any possible risk.

What makes Djokovic's comments even more shocking is the fact that he's been so on top of the response to COVID-19, from donating a million euros to help hospitals get the ventilators and other protective equipment they need, to posting one #TennisAtHome video after another. Clearly he takes this seriously, so why not be equally serious about developing and receiving a much-needed vaccine?

To be fair, Nole has long been a proponent of natural heeling, even delaying surgery a few years back before ultimately relenting. He told the New York Times his focus is on how to build immunity to the disease. He didn't make clear whether he opposed all vaccinations, and he didn't totally preclude taking one for the coronavirus if it were available.

Still, the anti-vax thing is baffling to me, especially in this case. If there were ever a time when you'd think everyone would be clamoring for a vaccine, it would be this one. And hopefully one comes along soon that allows us all to focus again, not on this outbreak, but on the things we love and want so badly to get back to normal.

No comments: