words by Rosie Marilyn Burgess, Staff Writer

At the time of writing this, Novak Djokovic is still awaiting a court hearing ahead of the start of the Australian open on Monday after being detained for being unvaccinated. Djokovic is a 34-year-old Serbian Tennis player and is currently ranked as World number one. But, ahead of his hopes to win the tournament to claim 21 major titles, Djokovic has already had an extensive history of spouting anti-science opinions. During lockdown, the tennis player spent time publishing a web series called the “The Self Mastery Project.”. He interviewed a series of wellness and self-help figures with many  of these having spread known conspiracy theories. The athlete had also previously stated that he was against vaccination and wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to travel. 

But, with so many other athletes such as NFL stars Aaron Rodgers, NBA stars such as Kyrie Irving and plenty of Premier League players against vaccination, why is it that so many professional athletes tout the anti-vax cause? 

My Body, My Choice 

One argument is that athletes value their bodily autonomy more than the average person. In an interview, West Bromwich Albion player Callum Robinson affirmed that he was against vaccination because it was “My Body, My Choice”. Young athletes are often very aware of what goes into their bodies. In order to be successful,  they need to understand their bodies and its abilities in order to push it to perform better. Strict lifestyle regimens and extensive drug testing may also contribute to athletes taking a higher interest in what goes into their bodies. Many athletes are concerned about the possible long-term effects of vaccination and whether or not it could affect their performance or career. NFL quarter-back Aaron Rodgers explained that “ I am somebody who is a critical thinker. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and the ability to make choices for your body, not to have to acquiesce to some sort of woke culture or crazed individuals who say you have to do something”. Novak Djokovic also said, “ Freedom of choice is essential”, “What do you want to put in your body.” It is clear that for many athletes, success requires a belief in one’s own body. So, as a consequence athletes are obsessive over their health in their quest to improve and this might lead many down a pseudo-medicine and disinformation rabbit hole.

For many, this line of thinking is viewed as unacceptable especially when collective choices have to be made in order to protect our most vulnerable. A recent public survey conducted by the Australian research organisation stated that at least 50% of the public did not approve of Novak Djokovic being allowed to stay in Australia if he continues to remain unvaccinated.  

An echo chamber of isolation.

Another argument states that athletes are isolated from the ‘Real World’. Many athletes lead lives in the limelight as celebrities as well as sporting professionals.  Most athletes surround themselves in environments that reflect their same views. This echo chamber perpetuates because of confirmation bias. They might not have anyone challenging their views. Other athletes, coaches and fans might feel the same way especially if they are sharing their views on social media.  Novak Djokovic is also no stranger to sharing his opinions online. One conspiracy group called “Unvaxxed Sperm” has expressed their joy at having someone become an icon for their movement.  And, for the average person the prospect of not being able to go to a nightclub or be restricted from travelling because of being unvaccinated is a real issue that could affect their livelihoods. It is an obvious deterrent. However, how do athletes feel about these potential consequences when they could just buy a whole nightclub or rent a private jet to travel? 

Reasons for vaccine hesitancy among athletes remains a relatively understudied field. But, some people feel that regardless of opinions, athletes need to be vaccinated in order to show consistency. They feel it should not be one rule for one and one rule for another. As citizens of society, protecting our most vulnerable communities and reducing the harm to Public Health is an essential task.  Athletes often train in close quarters, travel all around the world and come into contact with many different people. The rates of positive COVID-19 cases in the Premier league this week alone show that COVID-19 is spreading fast. With 103 cases after Christmas, some people believe that more needs to be done to prevent athletes from falling victim to anti-vax perspectives. 

[image courtesy of Mika Baumesiter, Unsplash]

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