WHY CAN'T AMERICA BE AUSTRALIAN IN DEALING WITH COVID-IOTS?
While No-Vaxx Djokovic was denied border entry Down Under, Big Sports continued to call the shots in the U.S., where anti-vaxxers Aaron Rodgers, Antonio Brown and Kyrie Irving were defying critics
How rational. How considerate. How responsible. It's about damned time a national government cracked down on the smug, cavalier COVID-iocy of Big Sports, which goes about its business as if the coronavirus doesn't exist, only pretending to care when caught in a lie.
Regrettably, that country isn't the United States of America. While an unvaccinated Kyrie Irving was making his season debut with a Brooklyn Nets team desperate enough to use him only for road games, and while an unvaccinated Aaron Rodgers was blasting a reporter as "a bum'' for daring to say he won't vote for the superstar quarterback unless MVP stands for Most Vile Perjurer, Australia was showing us what a moral compass looks like.
Unswayed by the stature of the world's preeminent tennis player and the history he's primed to make, that nation's Border Force slammed an overhead down the throat of No-Vaxx Djokovic. He was denied entry at the Melbourne airport and held in a room guarded by two policemen, according to his father, all for a very sound and sensible reason. As an outspoken opponent of vaccines who once flouted the coronavirus at a party he threw — which led to a batch of positive tests, including his own — Djokovic tried to ride a dubious medical exemption lobbied for and obtained by Australian Open officials, who dearly want their nine-time champion to win his record 21st Grand Slam title at their venue.
In America, a wishy-washy President Biden asks Rodgers to "get the vaccine.'' Down Under, Prime Minister Scott Morrison scolded Negligent Novak and canceled his visa. "Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,'' Morrison posted on Twitter. "No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.'' The nerve of Open officials and the Victoria state government to bend for Djokovic when, otherwise, only fully vaccinated players, fans and staff can enter Melbourne Park. It's the latest example of Big Sports looking out only for its interests, but this time, authorities finally took charge in a country where 86 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. In the U.S., the number is 61 percent.
Though No-Vaxx thought he could force his way into the tournament with an appeal, he reportedly was told at a government detention hotel in a Melbourne suburb that he soon would be removed from the country. Joker should know this: The world is tired of sports COVID-iots who think they're above restrictions and bigger than the virus, unconcerned about jeopardizing the health of other athletes and their families. They are enabled by money-first, safety-second leagues such as the NFL, which allows one of its most visible superstars, Rodgers, to flout anti-vaccine propaganda every week and refused to ban Antonio Brown last month for presenting a fake vaccine card, which led to Brown making an ass of himself and possibly ending his career with a half-naked strip tease in the third quarter Sunday.
That is almost forgotten after Brown and his attorney claimed Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians forced him to play with an injured ankle and covered up the injury, claiming Arians ordered him onto the field and said "You're done!'' when Brown finally refused. "Because of my commitment to the game, I relented to pressure directly from my coach to play injured,” Brown said in a statement. “Despite the pain, I suited up, the staff injected me with what I know was a powerful and sometimes dangerous painkiller that the NFLPA has warned against using, and I gave it all for my team.”
Do you believe anything that Antonio Brown, the man of 19,000 lives and at least that many lies, says about anyone or anything? I don't, though I don't doubt that teams inject injured players and treat them like animals. Shame on the NFL for not kicking Brown to the curb years ago. Roger Goodell deserves Brown's periodic shame.
The NBA, too, had no problem with Irving finally suiting up in Indiana, which countered a New York City vaccination mandate that shuts him down for home games. Scoring 22 points through rust, he helped the Nets to a victory. We are supposed to be excited about this?
Asked if his vaccine stance has changed, Irving avoided the question. "I don't want to make it simply about me and about someone lessening the rules for me,'' he said. "I knew what the consequences were, I still know what they are. But right now, I'm just going to take it one day at a time."
"Boosters are highly effective,'' NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.
But the league doesn't require them.
It's possible in 2022 that Rodgers wins another Super Bowl, Djokovic establishes a hallowed milestone and Irving returns to the Finals. And their triumphs, normally hailed, largely will be received with derision, while a smaller group of supporters will defend their freedom of choice and right to privacy. No-Vaxx always will be a hero in his native Serbia, where President Aleksandar Vucic was ready to start an international incident while Djokovic was detained for eight-plus hours at the airport after arriving from Dubai. Referring to "the harassment of the best tennis player in the world,'' Vucic said, "In accordance with all of the norms of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak, for justice and truth. By the way, Novak is strong, as we all know him."
He also is a selfish lout, the antithesis of regal Roger Federer. A Chicago football analyst, Hub Arkush, reached even lower in the trash bag for descriptions of Rodgers. "I don't think you can be the biggest jerk in the league and punish your team and your organization and your fan base the way he did and be the most valuable player," Arkush told Chicago radio station 670 The Score. "Has he been the most valuable on the field? Yeah, you could make that argument, but I don't think he is clearly that much more valuable than Jonathan Taylor or Cooper Kupp or maybe even Tom Brady. So from where I sit, the rest of it is why he's not gonna be my choice.
"I just think that the way he's carried himself is inappropriate. I think he's a bad guy, and I don't think a bad guy can be the most valuable guy at the same time."
I happen to agree, writing a column the other day — titled, "By Any Rational Measure, Aaron Rodgers Cannot Be The MVP.'' Allow me to bring back the first five paragraphs.
Have you watched the football explode from his right arm, as if the leather is coated in nitroglycerine? How he threads it between two or three defenders and inevitably finds a green-jerseyed receiver? The TV production trucks dazzle up such pass completions with a yellow blur, but when Aaron Rodgers is throwing, the effect should be smoke.
In any other era, one that isn't labeled in epidemiology-ese, the current discussion would involve his place in history. In his last five games, he has thrown 16 touchdown passes without an interception as the Green Bay Packers have ascended to the NFC's No. 1 seeding and, perhaps, the favorite's role to win Super Bowl LVI. Only four men have thrown more scoring passes in NFL history, and if Rodgers proceeds to win his second championship, there will be no obstacle between him and a place on Mount Passmore — alongside Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Joe Montana as the four greatest quarterbacks ever.
Except, that is, the lie he told.
It was a big enough lie — he was "immunized'' for COVID-19, he said, failing to mention he wasn't actually vaccinated — that it overwhelms any argument that Rodgers is the league's Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year. One cannot be considered for a monumental award when he has jeopardized the health of teammates, coaches and personnel all season. Still among 55 million American adults yet to be jabbed even once, let alone three times, Rodgers would be the last player to get my vote. Do you realize, amid the Omicron variant's swirling uncertainties, that he's capable of sabotaging the Packers at any moment by spreading the coronavirus — whether he's considered asymptomatic or not, because he probably won't tell the truth about symptoms — inside the team facility, on a plane, in a hotel, in a locker room, anywhere?
Or possibly contracting it himself, though he isolated with COVID-19 last month — because Omicron and Delta don't care about antibodies or have mercy on repeat sufferers?
The difference between Arkush and me: The editor of Pro Football Weekly, he is one of 50 voters for the award. And that caused Rodgers, who can dish out opinions but grows petty when he is ripped, to fire back. Rather than be classy and say people are entitled to opinions, he sounded like a wounded animal.
"I think he's a bum. I think he's an absolute bum,'' Rodgers said. "He doesn't know me. I don't know who he is; no one knew who he was, probably, until yesterday's comments. I listened to the comments, but to say he had his mind made up in the summertime, in the offseason, that I had zero chance of winning MVP, in my opinion, should exclude future votes. His problem isn't with me being a bad guy or the biggest jerk in the league. He doesn't know me."
It doesn't matter if Arkush doesn't know him. As a voter in the pandemic era, he is allowed to consider leadership as an MVP variable. Rodgers has been a thoughtless, ignorant leader who already could have spread the virus in the Green Bay locker room, which has been hit by outbreaks. And he still could sabotage the Packers in the Super Bowl — his next COVID-19 test comes after the NFC championship game, and he acknowledged Wednesday that he's still "unvaccinated.'' So how can he be the MVP when he still could cost his team a title?
"His problem is I'm not vaccinated," Rodgers said. "So, if he wants to go on a crusade and collude and come up with an extra letter to put on the award just for this season and make it the Most Valuable Vaccinated Player, then he should do that. But he's a bum and I'm not going to waste any time worrying about that stuff. He has no idea who I am. He's never talked to me in his life."
Rather than stand by his strong words, Arkush caved to peer pressure and social media abuse Wednesday night. "I made a terrible mistake. It was completely my fault. There is no one else to blame, and I am here to try and apologize. I own this and I couldn’t be more sorry,'' he wrote in a pathetic column. "Most of the other 49 voters are acquaintances, many are friends, and the reason we are asked not to do what I did is it now puts undo pressure on some of them to comment, not comment, agree, disagree or take grief for doing the right thing and remaining silent. Worse yet, I’ve apparently unleashed a small army of self-styled social media and talk radio experts who have no clue what they’re talking about to challenge the quality of the voting process and would attempt to invalidate any vote or thought process that doesn’t agree with their own. A sign of the times, I guess.”
Rodgers wins. Journalism loses.
In no mood to upset Rodgers when he's in a great mood, for a change, Packers coach Matt LaFleur delivered a full-bore defense. "If people are going to judge people for differences of opinion or things that they have no idea what the heck they're talking about, then I think that just kind of discredits that award,'' he said. "I think we hold that award in high regard. I think most do. And I think it's an absolute privilege to be able to vote for that award. To consider anything else outside of what you see when a player is out there playing, I think is a disservice to everybody."
Tragically, Big Sports no longer is about who wins the game. It's about whether the anti-vaxxers can out-duel science and win trophies anyway. Even as daily cases soar to the inevitable one million mark, again crushing the health care system, what takes creepy precedence is getting the games played and seasons completed. A smart man, Nets coach Steve Nash, figures having an unvaccinated Irving for fewer than half the remaining games is a better idea than healthy reinforcements.
"When we realized how much stuff was thrown at us, COVID got dicey," he said. "We ended up having 13 players who had COVID. We were going around signing a bunch of (10-day contracts) when we have a guy who can play for us, so what's the difference between a 10-day and a guy — those are part-time players, too.
"So, why not bring him back?''
Oh, because he could make other people sick.
Does that even matter anymore?
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.