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We’re playing the tiniest of violins for Sam Kendricks, the champion pole vaulter from Mississippi who was thrown out of the Tokyo Games after testing positive for COVID-19. Everyone long knew that officials in Japan planned to isolate any infect- ed athletes from other par- ticipants and the population at large.
Back in June, reporters asked Kendricks whether he had been vaccinated. He wouldn’t say, only noting that he got tested a lot for the virus. We take that as a no — that he didn’t bother doing what almost 60% of American adults had done. Testing isn’t protection against COVID-19. Vaccinations are.
Not only had Kendricks and several other infected American contenders faced personal disappointment, but they also cheated the people and institutions that had invested so heavily in their athletic careers. As the U.S. record-holder for the pole vault, Kendricks owed them something.
(In an aside, thank you Chris Nilsen of Kansas City, Missouri, for bringing home a silver medal for the pole vault.)
The United States ranked a sad 14th out of the 17 Olympic committees that responded to a survey on how many of their athletes were vaccinated. The rate for U.S. participants, 85.5%, may have sounded high, but 10 other top competing teams had vaccination rates of 94% or higher. China was at 100%.
And it wasn’t as though the American Olympic committee didn’t try. Team USA had encouraged all its athletes to get vaccinated, offering consultations with medical experts and providing information on where they could go for their shots.
At least some of the blame belongs to the politicians and media that poisoned the public with incendiary and false information about the COVID-19 vaccines. In his defense, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves did encourage all eligible residents to get vaccinated, but he down- played the necessity by opposing vaccination pass- ports — documents that would confirm that the holders had gotten their shots and were reasonably safe from contracting the disease.
Restaurants, theaters and others are now demanding vaccination proof as a condition for admission — at least in states where irresponsible politicians have not banned them. Entire countries, such as Italy and France, are now requiring vaccination passports for access to bars, planes and trains.
In vaccine-resistant Southern states, a disastrous spike in cases has prompted some governors to stop indulging those politicizing any restriction in the name of public health as an attack on freedom.
Louisiana has just insti- tuted a statewide mask mandate. Addressing its opponents, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, did not hold back. “Do you give a damn?” he asked, adding, “Louisiana’s the most pro- life state in the nation. I want to believe that.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, deserves credit for saying he regretted signing a ban on mask mandates in schools in April. “In hindsight,” he said, “I wish it had not become law.”
On the other hand, you have Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida trying to forbid school districts and private businesses from requiring vaccinations or masks.
Florida has become an epicenter for COVID-19 hospitalizations so severe that medical centers there are postponing elective surgery.
Compare that to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy who took off the gloves in confronting anti-vaccination hecklers. “These folks back there,” he shouted at them, “You’ve lost your minds. You’re the ultimate knuckle- heads.”
What can you say about star American athletes who had no medical reason to avoid the shots and knew that the authorities in Tokyo wouldn’t let them play if they were infected?
You can say they were knuckleheads. And if their refusal to protect themselves smashed their Olympic dreams, well, my eyes are dry.