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THE ANTI-VAXX TERRORIST: BOOTED DOWN UNDER, DJOKOVIC DESTROYING LEGACY
Selfish and repulsive, the world's top tennis player didn't deserve a chance to make history, and until he agrees to be vaccinated, other countries — U.S. included — should follow Australia's lead
To call him a liar, a narcissist, a dangerous propagandist and a dark menace to public health — that is being kind. Novak Djokovic, at least in an epidemiological context, is a terrorist. He insists on playing God and serving his own interests, a Joker dismissing COVID-19 as a joke.
By doing so, he further divides a world that must reach a consensus to ever dispose of this disease. He also has turned Australia into an enraged victim of his scheme until finally — and let's hope, definitively — he was designated for deportation again this morning by a government sending a robust, urgent message that the rest of humankind must heed.
His visa revoked, Djokovic has been booted Down Under — literally, up the ass — and told to go home, if not to another planet. Deportation likely means a three-year ban from the Australian Open, a tournament he has won nine times en route to his 20 major titles. He is appealing, of course, thinking he's in a country where legal boomerangs work. But if he has any dignity, any sense of responsibility and honor, No-vaxx will realize he isn't wanted where he is placing his quackery above the well-being of everyone else.
In history's view, Djokovic already has damned himself as a disgrace who will be scorned long after he retires with the most career Grand Slams in men's tennis. That is assuming he won't take his fuzzy balls and retire. Never admired or especially liked to begin with, as we tried to understand his scowl and moods and unorthodox views on science and nutrition, he now leaves us more repulsed than the day he launched a ball in frustration and nailed a line judge in the throat.
No-vaxx only is damaging his legacy, of course. Never has an athlete executing a historic takeover been less popular, with only Barry Bonds coming close, though benefitting from steroids in his pursuit of Henry Aaron's home-run record didn't involve a virus that has killed 5.52 million people and infected 320 million. What a shame that Roger Federer — so regal and exemplary, the antithesis of Djokovic — is on his last wheezes and couldn't have the record that Djokovic is positioned to claim.
Know anyone, anywhere, who was rooting for Djokovic to win his all-time-high 21st in Melbourne? Most people I know, on the double-jabbed side of life, were rooting only for handcuffs and a police escort to the first flight back to Belgrade. Justice prevailed, at last, and officials in the U.S., the United Kingdom and France should follow Australia's lead and stall this lout's pursuit of history until he is vaccinated. Maybe he is so consumed by his mad mission, he'll stop trying to bully his way into countries and go away.
We can only pray after immigration minister Alex Hawke cited public interest grounds in expelling Djokovic, saying he canceled the visa on "health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.'' In a statement, Hawke said he had the blessing of his close political ally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison: "The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.''
Morrison used the moment to herald Australia for having one of the world's highest vaccination rates and lowest pandemic death rates. America could learn from the Aussies. "The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods,'' he said. "Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.''
For a while there, we wondered if politicians Down Under had their pockets wide open for payoffs like the native kangaroos, as Djokovic remained in the main draw for Monday's start of the Open. Who knew the meat pies there were stuffed with such crap? If he was permitted to play and went on to win the big one, he'd have been enabled by a tournament director willingly playing a bad-cop role — Craig Tiley obviously wanted the milestone established on his hard courts. But a COVID-averse government realized it was vulnerable to hypocrite accusations, if not a public disturbance at Melbourne Park, by not taking firm action.
The country should have deported Djokovic last week. He lied his way past the Border Force at Tullamarine airport, checking a box on a form confirming he hadn't traveled internationally in the previous 14 days — when, in fact, he had been in Spain and his native Serbia. He also conned authorities into believing he'd had a nasty recent case of COVID-19, a requirement for an exemption to enter the country. Then he was caught in another deception, having to fess up that he didn't self-isolate after testing positive on Dec. 16 when, oops, a French journalist said he interviewed Djokovic in person two days later. The day before, Joker had appeared at an awards event where he and young tennis players weren't masked.
It was more than enough evidence to cancel his visa. He was a health risk to other players and personnel at the Open, all of whom complied with the mandate to be vaxxed up. For two weeks, he would have been an outsized target of the Australian people, who've been subjected to some of the world's most restrictive lockdowns. Anyone else would have been forcibly removed, or held in jail. But an attempt to deport Djokovic was thwarted Monday by a federal court judge who, curiously, found procedural loopholes. Since then, after a brief and surreal stay in a quarantine detention center where food with maggots and mold is served to refugees and asylum-seekers, Joker has been in posh quarters befitting his $220 million net worth.
"I’m pleased and grateful the Judge overturned my visa cancellation,'' Djokovic tweeted then. "Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen. I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans here.''
Beneath the tweet was a photo of Djokovic, arm in arm with members of his training team, all unmasked inside Rod Laver Arena during a mid-week practice session. He was making fools of wishy-washy politicians, of the players who are vaccinated — all of us, really.
But the pressure to bounce him only increased. Said deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce: "Most of us thought because Mr. Djokovic hadn’t been vaxxed twice that he would be asked to leave. Well, that was our view, but it wasn’t the court’s view. The vast majority of Australians ... didn’t like the idea that another individual, whether they’re a tennis player or the King of Spain or the Queen of England, can come here and have a different set of rules to what everybody else has to deal with.''
Speaking for most Aussies, Opposition Labor Party senator Kristina Keneally set a social media brushfire. "@AlexHawkeMP needs to decide now whether Djokovic stays or goes," she wrote. "The Morrison Govt is just incompetent. This is a farce."
Truly, it was.
All of which only is lowering Djokovic to new scoundrel levels among the millennium's sports superstars. We are witnessing vile examples of elite athletic privilege in recent weeks, from Aaron Rodgers admitting a lie about his vaccination status and publicly advancing his own quack science, to Kyrie Irving defying New York City's vaccine mandate at his team's expense, to Antonio Brown obtaining a fake vaccination card and somehow escaping an NFL ban, which freed him to make an ass of himself and idiots of Tom Brady and Bruce Arians in Tampa. Compared to Djokovic, they are saints.
"For sure, he has been playing by his own rules. It takes a lot of daring to do and (he is) putting a Grand Slam at risk," said Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world's fourth-ranked men's player. "He chose to follow (his) own way, which makes the majority look like they're all fools.''
He isn't alone in condemning No-vaxx. The tennis community is aghast, including the iconic Martina Navratilova. "The best thing for Novak to do I think is to say, 'You know what, there are too many mistakes, this not OK, I would be the only unvaccinated player to play in the Australian Open,' '' she said. "The right thing to do is to just go home. It's just the right thing to do, but I don't think he will do it because he wants that 21st title." Australia made the decision for him.
This is no way to make history. There he was, in what should have been a hallowed moment for tennis, prioritizing personal beliefs over the sport that has brought him fame and wealth. More justice would be served if Rafael Nadal, the clay maestro, won his 21st and passed Joker (and Federer) on the list. Typically, Nadal was polite about the fiasco and made us read between the lines. "In some ways, I feel sorry for him. But he knew the conditions months ago. He made his own decision,'' he said.
The entire Djokovic family took over the week. Novak's mother, Dijana, exacerbated the ugly standoff by referred to his earlier court victory as "the biggest'' of his career. "It is bigger than any Grand Slam,” she said. “He hasn’t broken any of their laws and he was subjected to torture, to harassment. He stood against the system and against the government.''
And lost, as he should have.
There was more drama, more hysteria. Djokovic's father, Srdjan, wanted Queen Elizabeth to intervene. Was this a future episode of "The Crown,'' or was I hallucinating? "I call on the Queen of Britain, Elizabeth, leader of the Commonwealth,'' he said, "to intervene and protect the human rights of my son Novak Djokovic and to stop the political prosecution that has been carried out against him since he came to Australia.''
No word from President Joe Biden, who woefully underestimated the Omicron variant and has enough problems. But in a few weeks, Djokovic might want to play events in Miami and Indian Wells, Calif. In August, he'll be eyeing another Grand Slam trophy at the U.S. Open. At present, visitors who aren't American citizens are required to be fully vaccinated to enter the country. Right?
Or will we continue to let Big Sports swallow our health crisis? If so, Djokovic could be primed to break or advance the record in New York. Why would we want that debacle on American soil when Australia was bold enough to tell No-vaxx, he of the God complex, to take his crusade and shove it.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.