Innocent readers of the sports section of Friday’s New York Times were treated to reporter Matthew Futterman’s judgmental hysteria over vaccines in his story on the controversial case of top-ranked tennis star Novak Djokovic, who may be denied his chance to defend his Australian Open title for not being vaccinated against Covid. The headline was an eyeroll in itself: “Modern Grudge Match Pits the Individualist Vs. the Greater Good.”
Tournament host Australia has been particularly authoritarian in its Covid restrictions, but there’s no longer any media mood to celebrate athletes who question unreasonable government edicts:
In a less dangerous time, a more forgiving public viewed Novak Djokovic’s nontraditional views of science and health as the quirky characteristics of a hyperactive seeker with strongly held beliefs about everything from sports to spirituality.
Djokovic, an outspoken skeptic of vaccines, will spend the weekend detained in a hotel room in Melbourne, Australia, waiting out a legal appeal and expected hearing on Monday in hopes of gaining entry to the country following a public and political outcry over the medical exemption he received to play in the Australian Open without being vaccinated….
Futterman found hysterics to confirm his own hysteria.
“The general public continues to respond positively if an athlete is speaking out on topics that make a difference in society and make people's lives better,” said Michael Lynch, the former director of sports marketing for Visa and a longtime consultant to the sports industry. “But if someone takes a position that put people’s lives at risk, then they are going to have very negative reaction.”
Never mind that the Omicron variant is significantly less deadly than the Delta variant it is replacing; but that's not enough for those like Futterman, who engage in wielding a Covid obsessed like a weapon:
The fame that comes with athletic success has provided Djokovic and other top athletes who oppose the coronavirus vaccines, like the N.F.L. quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the star basketball player Kyrie Irving, with platforms to promote causes they believed in and to collect millions of dollars to promote products. But in recent months, their high profiles have become a liability as their behavior and their views supported misinformation and put public safety at risk.
As he made clear in his piece, there will be no more tolerance for dissent (click "expand"):
The vaccination issue has changed the equation for sports, whose return in 2020 was viewed positively when they modeled safe behavior, such as mask wearing, playing before sparse crowds or no one at all, and participating in regular testing. The behavior and outspokenness of Djokovic, Rodgers, Irving and others against vaccines has jeopardized that good will, and organizations are now tightening their rules to play defense.
Djokovic also could have avoided his troubles by simply getting vaccinated, as hundreds of millions of people have done during the past 12 months….
Yet Futterman himself reported Djokovic has already been infected, in June 2020, and so presumably has some immunity from Covid.
As the world’s No. 1 tennis player, he’s presumably in above-average physical condition, in relatively little danger from the virus.
To underline his hysterics, Futterman switched to a sport back in the PA:
[ New Jersey Nets player] Kyrie Irving…will continue to be a symbol of everything the N.B.A. has tried to avoid during the pandemic: being seen as a potential danger to the public. And that public has dwindling patience for anyone who may be hindering efforts to end the pandemic.
Unvaxxed Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers was portrayed as dishonorable as well; “He quickly became an object of widespread scorn then blamed cancel culture for his treatment.”
Futterman advanced his opinionated news coverage on Twitter: “[M]ost of the population has had it with junk science and whatever else the anti-vaccine wing peddles. Enough.”