Novak Djokovic: Sports Saint or Dangerous Jerk?
Australia blurred the vaccination lines when they booted him for mixed reasons.
Novak Djokovic is the number one tennis player in the world, with over $150 million in career earnings in tennis and another $50 million a year in endorsements. He has about 10 million followers on Instagram and another 9 million on Twitter. He is a man of wealth, power, and influence. What he does matters to millions, especially to young children wanting to emulate their sports hero.
Which makes what happened to him in Australia so important—yet so confusing.
While the melodrama was playing out, it was difficult for me to pick a side. We were told that Djokovic, famously anti-vax for famously uninformed reasons, had been cleared by two independent medical panels to be exempt from Australia’s vaccination rules for unknown reasons. Because they were personal medical reasons, the panels said they could not publicly disclose the nature of his exemption.
Okay, I can respect that. Perhaps he had an aggressive allergy to the vaccination or some other physical malady that prevented him from receiving the vaccination. Such cases were rare but they did exist. I was willing to wait and see what the facts were before weighing in.
But the public was as skeptical of this as would be the principal of Ferris Bueller’s doctor’s note excusing him from school. The problem is that Djokovic has a history of being a scoff-vax based on numbskullery rather than legitimate medical concerns. For example, in April 2020, before vaccines were even available, he stated he was “opposed to vaccination,” though he gave no reasons why. He later said on Facebook live that he was “curious about wellbeing and how we can empower our metabolism to be in the best shape to defend against imposters like Covid-19.” We’re all curious and would like nothing better than to use holistic or herbal alternatives to medicine. But there is nothing scientifically proven to be as effective in protecting us than the vaccine. All other remedies have been proven to be at best minimally effective and at worst fatal.
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He had more medical advice to give. On Instagram live he told followers that positive thought had the power to “cleanse” polluted water, further claiming that “scientists have proven that molecules in water react to our emotions.” Tell that to the people of Flint, Michigan. Perhaps he got his medical degree from watching Peter Pan, who taught Wendy and her brothers to fly by thinking “lovely thoughts.”
Clearly, Djokovic’s bar for scientific proof is a bit lower than most people’s ankles. He explained how a he became persuaded of the harmful effects of gluten: a nutritionist had him hold a slice of bread in his left hand while pressing down on his right arm. He said he was much weaker while holding the bread. Voila! Gluten makes you weak.
Yup, he said all that. To millions of followers on social media.
Back to the Australian Open and all the confusion. Djokovic was invited to defend his title which, if he were successful, would have given him a record 21 men's singles grand slam titles. The world would be watching this momentous occasion. Lots of money was on the line for everyone involved.
The hitch was that Australian law requires all international arrivals to be double-vaccinated against Covid-19 unless they have a medical exemption. Exemptions are given only to those who can prove they've suffered anaphylaxis after a previous dose, or any component of a vaccine, or are significantly immunocompromised.
Djokovic’s defense was that two independent panels associated with Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government exempted him because he had been infected with Covid-19 in December. That did not meet the legal standard. Plus, there were factual errors on the form detailing his travels in the 14 days prior to arriving in Australia. As a result, he was booted from the country.