The year’s first tennis major, the Australian Open, is underway in Melbourne. The world’s best tennis player, defending champion Novak Djokovic, isn’t in it. He very much wanted to be. He’s healthy. But they kicked him out against his will. Deported him, in fact.
Enjoy your stay in the 19th Century, Novak, when science and medicine were not yet reliable things. Enjoy the pointless crusade of yours and others like you, a crusade one might call Quixotic. It qualifies as that for the impracticality, though clearly not for the idealism, or for any shred of nobility.
The ongoing global pandemic we first knew as the coronavirus and then as COVID-19 and later by variant names such as the sci-fi sounding Omicron — we are coming up now on two years of dealing with this thing. With combating a public health crisis that has killed 5.6 million people worldwide including 874,000 Americans.
And one of the astounding stories of our time is that so many of us — far from the majority, but still too many — simply refuse to be vaccinated against this scourge, when vaccines are readily available. Too many still are selfishly putting themselves above all others. They are are on a soapbox talking about personal rights above the overall public health.
This is not a freedom issue, people.
And Djokovic is not the first prominent athlete volunteering himself as the face of this selfishness.
Sports, as a whole, has failed to rally and lead the pro-vaccine fight the past two years and marshal the same consensus sports managed in the fight for social justice.
NBA star Kyrie Irving is another one in Djokovic’s losing army. Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley is another one. The modern-day lepers, they’re out there, playing on your favorite team.
But none have the stature in their sport that Djokovic does.
This Australian Open should have seen him win his 21st career major to break his tie with longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It was all but a given. He has won a record nine Aussie crowns.
Now, he missed his chance at history because he missed two shots.
Imagine if Tom Brady was unvaccinated and that meant he was barred from the NFL playoffs?
This is the tennis equivalent. The best player ever, the world No. 1, choosing this hill for his reputation and maybe his place in history to die on.
What a waste.
The Australian government has strict rules under which Djokovic did not qualify, and they would not make an exception for an entitled, selfish athlete. Good for them. His visa was denied, and he was deported.
The French Open in May also is poised to ban Djokovic under its new national law requiring certification of vaccination to enter public places such as sports venues, restaurants, movie theaters and subways,.
With Wimbledon later in the summer, England, as of now, allows exceptions for athletes under certain conditions and restrictions.
Luckily for Djokovic, if not common sense, he will likely find safe haven and a red-carpet welcome in the non-major but prestigious Miami Open starting March 21. That’s because state’s rights prevent national law, and allow states like Florida, “led” by spineless Governor Ron DeSantis, to act as if the pandemic (what pandemic?) is a thing of the past.
It’s why the Dolphins had full stadiums this season, no vaccines required, and with just a “suggestion” to consider wearing a mask. (If it isn’t too much trouble, that is!).
Djokovic had the temerity, during this Australian Open soap opera of his doing, to say he was “uncomfortable” with the focus being all on him over this controversy since he first arrived in Melbourne on Jan. 6. As if he had nothing to say about that.
How about you act like an adult, get vaccinated and be eligible to play, so that the focus might be back on tennis and your aim to become the game’s all-time major winner?
How plainly embarrassing.
For Novak Djokovic. For tennis. For sports.
For the very notion of selflessness and looking out for one another.
The good news for tennis? The sport might have just picked up legions of new followers, new fans who have adopted a new favorite player to cheer for. That new favorite player?
Anybody on the opposite side of the net from Novak Djokovic.