Not allowing Novak Djokovic into the country to play the U.S. Open reveals a new level of government policy becoming laughably passé. Health officials should use the current controversy to change course and admit out loud what everybody already knows: COVID is with us to stay. Let’s act and plan accordingly.
We have officially reached the peak of Mount Absurdity.
Arguably the greatest tennis player in the world today, chasing history and seeking to ascend the Mount Olympus of his sport – with COVID antibodies running through his veins no less, – Novak Djokovic is not going to be allowed to compete at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in just a few weeks.
This policy would make sense if we could vaccinate our way out of COVID waves of mass infection. Clearly, we cannot. This policy would make sense if Djokovic was any type of threat to the public health of Americans. Clearly, he is not. This policy would make sense if it was shown to have the smallest tincture of efficacy against COVID variants taking hold in the United States. Clearly, it cannot.
Heck, this policy would make the slightest iota of sense – and I mean very slight – if it was part of an international consortium of countries attempting to create a consensus of how to respond to international travel.
I was an ardent believer in the vaccines early on. I still believe it makes sense to get one if you are older or have health problems. But no one in their right mind who looks at the current level of vaccine efficacy in preventing infections can conclude that Djokovic is at any type of risk. Does anybody think Djokovic is going to test positive and end up in the hospital or on a ventilator? What about the fact that we are in the midst of yet another surge? Doesn’t prudence dictate taking a cautious approach? Even the New York Times now admits, “evidence suggests that BA.5 does not cause more severe disease than other Omicron variants…Instead, the percentage of Covid cases leading to bad outcomes is declining.”
No less a tennis authority than John McEnroe weighed in as he performed commentary duties during Wimbledon: “These politicians are getting in the way too much. They did it in Australia. Let’s let the guy come in and play in the U.S. I mean come on. This is ridiculous,” McEnroe said while Djokovic waved to the crowd at the All England Club. “But I don’t make those decisions. I hope someone makes the right one and allows him to play. That’s my personal opinion.”
On July 20, U.S. Open organizers released a statement about the current Djokovic controversy. In part it reads, “The U.S. Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the U.S. government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-U.S. citizens.”
But the position of the U.S. government is wholly anchored in the misbegotten, and frankly outdated, belief that restricting unvaccinated international travelers from entering the country will somehow translate into less severe waves of infection in the United States. As was noted in Newsweek, unvaccinated and unmasked fans will be allowed to congregate by the thousands for two weeks at the U.S. Open, but the greatest player in the world in pursuit of its greatest historic prize, cannot show up to play in front of them?
In the always rational world of Twitter, some Djokovic enthusiasts earnestly wonder aloud if he is being targeted, if there is a Rafael Nadal cabal deep inside the American government trying to tilt tennis history and give an unfair advantage to the Spaniard in their historic race for the most Grand Slam titles. Of course, this policy of not allowing unvaccinated foreigners into the country applies to all foreigners, not just Djokovic. So, no conspiracy here. That said, many point to the saga that ensued in Australia in January as proof of Djokovic’s mistreatment by government authorities around the world. Even Nick Kyrgios, who up to that point had been a brutal critic of Djokovic, found his own government’s policies and treatment of Djokovic to be reprehensible. The two have since happily ended their feud and Djokovic admitted to a “bromance” during the awards ceremony after the Wimbledon final.
So, what is really going on here?
Government officials are well aware they cannot prevent or even slow the spread of new variants. They inadvertently admitted as much when they decided to abandon testing requirements for Americans re-entering the country. If they know the vaccines don’t prevent infection of the current BA.5 variant, and they also allow Americans to enter the country who might well be infected, what sense does it make to continue a policy that doesn’t allow unvaccinated foreigners into the country? If the American government wanted to save a patina of face it could force the unvaccinated to take a test before entering the country or allow them to provide evidence of natural immunity. But even that doesn’t appear to be on the table.
The Djokovic brouhaha is emblematic of modern bureaucracy’s pernicious habit of attempting to show it is “doing something,” even if everybody knows this something is utterly pointless. Modern statecraft has re-oriented itself to be endlessly responsive, hyper sensitive to the changing landscape of civil society. This is a worldview which perpetuates the statist belief that every problem must—just must!—have a policy solution.
In so doing, policy can quickly became hasty, imprudent, or in this case, laughable. Everyone is slowly coming around to the truth that Covid is with us to stay. We can mask, vaccinate, distance, and worship at the altar of Zoom meetings as much as we want. It won’t matter. This is why vaccine mandates are being abandoned faster than Netflix subscriptions.
Let Djokovic play. He won’t hurt anyone. Let’s use this as a chance to abandon an outdated policy and be truly responsive to both science and the public.
Jeremy S. Adams is the author of the recently-released Amazon best-selling book Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation. He has taught American civics for 24 years in Bakersfield, California and was the 2014 California Teacher of the Year (DAR). You can follow him on Twitter @JeremyAdams6.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.