Don’t throw away your shot…at telling the truth
I cannot stop thinking about Aaron Rodgers. I know the story is now old and gone, and he’s back on the field, and he’s allegedly paid the price – a whopping $14,650 – but, well, he lied, and in a big way.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’ve been immunized.”
I, for one, cannot move on from that.
Bodily autonomy and personal choice are not, as we know, as science tells us, part of vaccination. Vaccination is, to some degree, about self. I felt good about myself (until the chills and blinding arm pain took over) when I got my booster shot a few weeks ago, feeling more protected and confident as I went about my day.
But vaccination is also about community. And one of the best ways to think about community? Sportsmanship. Getting vaccinated is about being a team player, a good sport, taking care of and respecting those around you as you take care of and respect yourself. These are all things that an athlete should know well.
But you know what else athletes do well? They lie.
It’s part of sports to lie. Bunting, I have always believed, is a lie. Watching a batter step up to home plate, eyeing the pitcher and eyeing the back wall of the ballpark, and then, as the ball zooms toward the plate, sliding the bat across the body to make it roll slowly toward third? It’s a lie. So are secret passes, keep away in the infield, fake runs and field goals, pop and rolls, secret handoffs, and pretend fumbles on the gridiron.
There are lies in sports that exist within areas of gray, to be sure, such as the intentional foul in basketball, and others that seem simply unnecessary, like flopping on the soccer pitch, gripping one’s knee in fake agony.
There are lies that break the unspoken promise among competitors when they take to the field, looking to perform their personal best, looking to play by the rules so as not to hinder their opponent’s ability to do the same. Some of these lies are just silly: the height and weight of athletes, for example, are often exaggerated in their bios. Other lies are heartbreaking, such as the athlete – I see you, Sam Bowie – who has to claim to be healthy when not.
Athletes who take steroids, blood dope, or break one of the billion rules that the World Anti-Doping Agency has put into place lie. Barry Bonds? Lied. Marion Jones? Lied. Lance Armstrong? Lied. Roger Clemens? Lied. A-Rod? Lied.
But while A-Rod has somehow resurrected his image to drone on during baseball games for ESPN, Pete Rose remains banished from the sport, his lie about betting on baseball still overshadowing his stats and records, keeping him out of the Hall of Fame in perpetuity.
Athletes also lie to fans. Ryan Lochte lied about his Rio bender in 2016 despite security footage that affirmed he was not the victim of a crime, but, rather, an idiot. Brett Favre lied when he said he was retiring. So did Cher, for that matter, but she isn’t exactly an athlete. LeBron James promised he would never leave Cleveland until he won a championship.
Which he then did.
Before going back to Cleveland and finally making good on that promise.
In 1980, Rosie Ruiz faked the victory of a race that took place before the eyes of thousands upon thousands. Riding the subway in the middle of an elite marathon, I think we can all agree, creates an unfair competitive advantage. But even Ruiz pales in comparison to the Spanish Paralympic Basketball team, who in 2000, took home the title in the intellectual disability basketball tournament fielding a team that included 10 players who did not have IQs below 70, the requirement for competing.
That Spanish basketball squad might win the day when it comes to a lack of moral responsibility exhibited by athletes. But I think Aaron Rodgers comes close. Vaccination isn’t, despite his claims about bodily autonomy, a personal choice: it’s a moral responsibility. And just as it is important that people don’t fake their way into the Special Olympics, or hop on a subway in the middle of a road race, it is critical that athletes – who have a rare and powerful spotlight upon them – don’t spread the kind of pseudo-science that will perpetuate the COVID-19 pandemic far into 2022 and beyond. And I don’t know that we’ve done enough to undo what Aaron Rodgers has wrought.
Amy Bass is professor of sport studies and chair of the division of social science and communication at Manhattanville College. Bass is the author of ONE GOAL: A COACH, A TEAM, AND THE GAME THAT BROUGHT A DIVDED TOWN TOGETHER, among other titles. In 2012, she won an Emmy for her work with NBC Olympic Sports on the London Olympic Games.
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