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In vaccine battles, pro athletes become proxy players | Entertainment

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The Pandemic Erasagaof tennis star Novak Djokovic in Australia this week is just one of many: professional athletes who refused to be vaccinated have been placed on center court in a wider competition as famous faces who become proxy players in the accelerated global cultural battles over COVID jabs.

It’s a question of culture, not a question of numbers. The vast majority of players in professional sports organizations are more vaccinated than the US population as a whole and tacitly or explicitly accept evidence of their safety and effectiveness. But the handful of high-profile objectors represent a new front in what one expert calls sport’s supersized role in society’s conversations.

We look to sport to give us an answer or clarify issues in the wider culture, saysRobert T. Hayashi,associate professor of American Studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts whose specialties include sports history. Often the most detailed conversations we see emerging in culture and media are about sports.”

Their centrality is not necessarily because they are exceptional, but because they serve as avatars for all of us.

They are all different individuals. They have different approaches, says Dan Lebowitz, executive director of theCenter for the Study of Sport in Societyat Northeastern University. Athletes, he says, are no different from the whole of humanity.

And in this sense, they are subject to the same information and misinformation, the same receptivity or stubbornness as the rest of the population.

We live in a world where we have moved away from a central set of facts, says Lebowitz. “None of these athletes are insensitive to all the information that comes their way around the world, or insensitive to the divisions we have.

While the likes of Irving, Rodgers and Djokovic are at the center of the conversation, they may not actually be leading it. COVID vaccines, in their brief existence, have been accelerated into an elite group of contentious political and cultural issues on which people tend to pick sides and stick with them no matter what.

The kind of issues they’re not really influential on are the traditional corner issues,” Harvey says. Celebrities aren’t really going to change anyone’s mind about abortion or guns. For the most people this is part of what has become a corner issue.

The notorious voices then become devices for amplifying something else, opinions used more as fuel for existing arguments than as real agents of influence.

People who have certain beliefs that they want to promulgate…they’re going to grab those athletes as spokespersons for their cause, Lebowitz says.

That doesn’t necessarily mean famous voices have no real effect, though. Harvey says a celebrity’s personal connection to an issue can matter and attract attention.

For example: Today’s show host Katie Couric had a colonoscopy in 2000 after her husband died of colon cancer, and the number of such procedures has spiked in the months that followed. And Elton John speaking to LGBTQ communities, especially LGBTQ issues, might be more vocal than anyone else.

By the same token, dedicated fans of a team like the Green Bay Packers might be more likely to listen to opinions on vaccination from a legendary local player like Rodgers. And the opinions of black athletes might carry more weight in African-American communities, especially when based on a history of medical abuse.

They may feel a kind of lack of confidence, with memories ofTuskegee Experiencesand forced sterilization for women of color, Hayashi says. These identities are not stripped in these situations.

Djokovic’s stance could also resonate in the Serbian athlete’s home country, given his role in European conflicts in the 20th century.

For Djokovic, the Serbian community with their role in Europe and the way they have been portrayed as villains, he can certainly become a symbol for some by asserting a kind of national pride with the way he stands, says Hayashi.

While sport has always been inseparable from politics and public strife, there has been a major shift in the years since Michael Jordan made public neutrality on all non-sporting matters a core part of his brand. Today, there is almost an expectation of advocacy, especially with the precedent set by Colin Kaepernick’s protests and many athletes joining the Black Lives Matter cause.

We expect a lot from them,” says Leibowitz. “We ask them to fix the hate and the pain. And now we expect a groundswell from them on public health.

Those expectations were reinforced by the cultural melting pot of the Trump era, which Harvey said was defined by celebrity advocacy under the leadership of a president who himself, as a businessman, star reality television personality and general personality, helped make the notion of a celebrity voice an American bully. chair in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

I think the moral of the story that celebrities learn is where you kind of have to take sides, says Harvey. “These days, if you don’t take sides, people don’t think you don’t have a backbone.

And while athletes don’t necessarily feel the pressure they might have to constantly think about the kids they’re influencing, the expectation that they’ll remain role models for young people remains entrenched in the culture as it has been ever since. the years of the first sports. mega-celebrities like Babe Ruth more than a century ago.

There are many things that we see in society, sport being the crucible for shaping youth and certain ideas that we value, sacrifice and effort and goal orientation, learning to work hard and to set goals, to be that shaper of youth and morality, Hayashi said. “I find this kind of perv laughable that we turn to these kind of characters for this. Can’t get that by being a disciplined violinist, artist or writer?

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