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.
During major tournaments he has sat in an egg-shaped pod that was pressurized during tournaments. He believed that it would improve circulation, red-blood cell growth, and eliminate lactic acid from his muscles. He was a strong believer in the idea that prayer and faith could purify contaminated water. Djokovic, and other well-known athletes with unconventional health approaches, were a source to bemusement for a society that has long regarded them as role models. These quirks as seemingly harmless as a bowl of quarterback Tom Brady’s avocado ice cream.
It’s not anymore.
Djokovic, a vocal opponent of vaccines, will spend the weekend in Melbourne waiting for a court appeal. The hearing will take place on Monday. In the hope of being granted entry to Australia following a public and political outcry about the medical exemption that he received to participate in the Australian Open, Djokovic will be held in Melbourne’s hotel room. The Australian Border Force denied Djokovic’s request for an exemption on Wednesday.
The pitched battle over what was supposed to be his quest for a record 10th Australian Open men’s singles championship has highlighted a new dynamic for stars like Djokovic. Public perceptions have changed. Athletes once seen as icons are now being challenged by those who want to play according to different rules to everyone else.
“The general public continues to respond positively if an athlete is speaking out on topics that make a difference in society and make peoples 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 peoples’ lives at risk, then they are going to have very negative reaction.”
Djokovic, along with other top athletes, have been able to use the fame that comes from athletic success to oppose the N.F.L.’s coronavirus vaccinations. Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback, and Kyrie Irving, the basketball star, have platforms to promote causes and collect millions of dollars to market products. However, their high profile has become a liability in recent months as their views and behavior supported misinformation and put the public safety at risk.
The stakes for sports leagues or organizations are high. Access to social media has allowed sports stars to be more outspoken than ever before. As long as they don’t offend or polarize, they provide free, mostly positive publicity to their sports, causes, and brands.
The vaccination issue has changed the dynamics of sports. In 2020, their return was viewed positively because they showed safe behavior such as wearing masks, playing in front of small groups or no one, and taking part in regular testing. Djokovic’s outspokenness and outspokenness against vaccinations has damaged that good will. Organizations are now tightening the rules to protect themselves.
The N.C.A.A. said on Thursday that, in many instances, it would not consider players or coaches “fully vaccinated” unless they had also received a booster shot.
The Novak Djokovic Standoff with Australia
Although the guidance does not apply to schools and conferences it is still influential, especially for the N.C.A.A.-run Division I tournaments which will be held in March.
“You’re allowed to have your own beliefs but once those beliefs start to impact other people, that is where things begin to get a little dodgy,” said Patrick McEnroe, the former professional tennis player who is now a commentator for ESPN.
This dynamic reached its peak in Australia when Djokovic was detained by federal border police at a Melbourne airport.
Djokovic is a Serb who won 20 Grand Slam singles titles. He flew to Australia to defend the title in the Australian Open. This was after he was informed that he had been granted a medical exemption to receive a vaccine for an undisclosed cause by two panels representing the organization that hosts the tournament and the government Victoria, which includes Melbourne. Djokovic was on his way to Australia from Dubai when the public and politicians expressed their dismay at Djokovic’s status as No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player, had received unjustified special treatment.
Around 80 percent of Australians have had at least one vaccination. Australians have had to endure some of the most severe restrictions in order to stop the spread of the virus. These included lockdowns that lasted hundreds and days and restrictions on travel. Australians were unable to tolerate a critic of vaccines getting a questionable pass.
Border officials with the support from Prime Minister Scott MorrisonHe was rejected by the Federal Government and other high-ranking officials. They claimed that his medical exemption was invalid.
Michael Payne, the former chief marketing officer for the International Olympic Committee, said Djokovic had gotten “caught in political power play between different government departments who should have told him upfront, ‘no vaccine, no play.’”
Djokovic could have avoided his problems, however, he could also have gotten vaccinated as hundreds of millions have done in the past 12 months. This was either because they were following public health guidance, or because their employers or governments required it.
Irving, the Nets’s guard, has stubbornly refused to be vaccinated. Irving’s refusal has made him ineligible to play in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, because New York City requires people working indoors to be vaccinated.
For the first two months, the Nets kept him off their roster. Then, as their losses mounted, the team opted to essentially make him a part-time employee who will play only in arenas in cities that don’t prohibit unvaccinated people from working indoors.
He scored 22 points in Wednesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. But he will remain a symbol for everything the N.B.A. He has tried to avoid the pandemic, which is being viewed as a potential threat to the public and has reduced patience for anyone who might be hindering efforts towards ending the pandemic.
Rodgers, a Midwest folk hero, is one win away from the Green Bay Packers securing the top N.F.C. seed. Next week will see the start of the playoffs. Rodgers was ridiculed and criticized in November when he tested positive to Covid-19 after making misleading statements for months about whether he had been vaccinated. He also violated N.F.L. Rules for unvaccinated players were also broken, including the requirement to not wear a mask while speaking with journalists. He was in the hospital recovering from illness and missed a game. The N.F.L. The N.F.L. imposed a $300,000 fine on the Packers for enabling his behavior.
Rodgers explained why he didn’t get vaccinated. He said he had read hundreds upon pages of research and received treatments to prevent infection. These treatments have been debunked by scientists or not proven to be effective. He quickly became a target of ridicule and was then blamed for cancelling his vaccinations.
Star vaccine resistors have their supporters. Djokovic’s family on Thursday held rallies in Belgrade, where his father, Srdjan, accused Morrison, the Australian prime minister, of holding his son “captive” for his beliefs and trampling on all of Serbia, where Djokovic is a hallowed treasure.
He also read a message that he said was from Djokovic: “God sees everything. Morality and ethics are the most important ideals for spiritual ascension. My grace is spiritual and theirs is material wealth.”
Djokovic’s chief rival, Rafael Nadal, who is in Australia ahead of playing in the Open, offered a less-than-sympathetic take on the dispute Thursday.
“In some way I feel sorry for him,” said Nadal, who has long supported vaccine efforts. “But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.”
Alan Blinder contributed reporting.
Source: NY Times