Most pro athletes are vaccinated — but the unvaxxed are making headlines

Most pro athletes are vaccinated — but the unvaxxed are making headlines

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Unvaxxed sports stars are dominating the headlines

The vast majority of professional athletes are vaccinated against COVID-19. But three famously non-inoculated superstars are currently making news for various reasons:

Novak Djokovic

The world’s most dominant tennis player — who has refused to say whether he has been vaccinated but whose actions all indicate he is not — seemed poised to break the all-time record for Grand Slam men’s singles titles at this month’s Australian Open. His 20 major victories include a record nine at the Aussie, which he won the last three years in a row. But now it looks like Djokovic might not even be able to play.

The Serbian star arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday after securing a medical exemption from the Victoria state government that allowed him to bypass the vaccination requirement for those entering the country. But, after much public outcry, Australian border officials at the airport rejected Djokovic’s exemption today and cancelled his visa. His lawyers are challenging the move in court in hopes of avoiding deportation. But the hearing won’t take place until Monday, leaving the world No. 1 in limbo.

In the meantime, Djokovic is confined to a hotel room, and his mother is accusing Australian authorities of treating her son “like a prisoner” and waging a “political attack” with the goal of stopping him from setting the Slam record. Djokovic’s dad took it a step further in the couple’s press conference today, comparing his son’s plight to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and framing him as a national freedom fighter. “Novak is Serbia, and Serbia is Novak,” he said, in Serbian. “They are treading on Novak, and with that, they also tread on Serbia and the Serbian people.”

Kyrie Irving

Normally, the return of one of the world’s most talented basketball players after missing the first three months of the season would be met with unbridled celebration. But, with Kyrie, nothing is ever that simple.

The mercurial flat-earth dabbler caused a big stink in the pre-season with his refusal to get vaccinated — a major problem for his team, the Brooklyn Nets, given New York City’s mandate requiring pro athletes performing in public indoor venues to be vaxxed. Irving could have played road games in areas that don’t have such a rule, but the Nets said they wouldn’t allow him to be a part-time player.

Until, that is, their roster was decimated last month by an outbreak. Brooklyn blinked, invited Kyrie back, and (after a stint in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol triggered by either a positive or inconclusive test) he made his season debut last night in Indiana. Irving scored 22 in a Nets win, then dodged questions from reporters about whether he’d reconsider his vaccine stance. This could become an even bigger headache for Brooklyn come playoff time, when Irving may have to sit out basically half the games in a series.

Aaron Rodgers

The reigning NFL MVP angered a lot of fans back in November when he tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to miss 10 days, revealing he was not vaccinated. Prior to the season, Rodgers gave the impression he was vaxxed when he told reporters he’d “been immunized” and added “there’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated… I’m not going to judge those guys.” Turns out, he was one of those guys. Rodgers explained that he has “an allergy to an ingredient that’s in the mRNA vaccines” but also didn’t help himself by blaming “cancel culture” and “the woke mob” for his getting caught in a lie.

As we know, though, the NFL is famously forgiving of personal transgressions as long as you deliver on Sundays (see: Brown, Antonio). So Rodgers was able to largely put the controversy behind him by playing some brilliant football over the last couple of months. He’s led Green Bay to six wins in seven games since his return to the lineup, putting the Packers alone atop the league with a 13-3 record heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

With no obvious choice for MVP out there, some are wondering whether Rodgers will become the first repeat winner since Peyton Manning in 2009. But it seems some voters might flat-out refuse to pick him, including one Chicago-based reporter who went on record this week. Rodgers responded by calling the guy an “absolute bum” who ought to be stripped of his vote.

Aaron Rodgers’ MVP chances might be hurt by his duplicitous approach to his vaccine status. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Quickly…

The newest Olympic sport: not getting COVID. With less than a month left until the Beijing Games and punishing rules in place for anyone who tests positive, Olympic athletes are going to great lengths to make sure they’re allowed to get on their plane and compete in China. Canadian figure skater Eric Radford, who recovered from the virus just in time to take the ice tomorrow at the national championships, called the current landscape an “invisible minefield.” The Canadian women’s hockey team decided to cancel its remaining exhibition games, preferring the risk of rust to that of another outbreak like the one it experienced last month. Canada’s speed skaters saw all of their upcoming out-of-province and out-of-country training camps dropped. The Canadian mixed doubles curling trials were called off, and officials will simply name a duo to represent the country rather than hold a tournament to decide it. All this uncertainty is raising athletes’ stress levels at a time that’s already packed with pressure and nervous anticipation. Read more about how they and Canadian Olympic officials are trying to get through it in this story by CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.

Antonio Brown is officially no longer a Buccaneer. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians vowed that the volatile wide receiver would be thrown overboard after his bizarre exit from Sunday’s game in New York. Amid an apparent dispute with the coaching staff on the sidelines, Brown stripped naked from the waist up, chucked his gloves into the stands, waved goodbye to the crowd and jogged out the tunnel, leaving the team. Since then, Brown has alleged the Bucs tried to make him play with a severe ankle injury. The team denied this, saying its medical staff cleared Brown to play and he gave no indication that he was too hurt to do so. Today, the defending Super Bowl champs cut him, leaving Tom Brady without one of his best targets heading into the playoffs.

And finally…

In her darkest hour, Joannie Rochette showed incredible strength and grace. Many of us are going through a tough time right now, but imagine what Rochette was feeling at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Two days before the Canadian figure skating star was to begin competing, her 55-year-old mother, Thérèse, died of a heart attack shortly after arriving in town to cheer on her daughter. Racked with grief, Rochette somehow found the strength to not only perform but win the bronze medal in the women’s event. Revisit one of the most emotional moments in Olympic history through the eyes of the people involved by reading this oral history by CBC Sports’ Doug Harrison.

Coming up on CBC Sports

Less than a month from the Beijing Games, a bunch of important winter Olympic sports events are happening on Friday. Here’s what you can live-stream on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem:

Skeleton: The bad news is, Canada has just one podium to show for the first six stops of the World Cup season — a bronze by Mirela Rahneva last month in Winterberg, Germany. The good news is, the circuit returns to that same venue on Friday. Watch the men’s race starting at 4 a.m. ET, and the women’s starting at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Canadian figure skating championships: This year’s nationals, which are being held without spectators in Ottawa, double as the final audition for the Olympic team. Read more about the key skaters and storylines here and here. Watch the short programs in all four disciplines, starting with the women’s at noon ET, followed by the ice dance at 2:45 p.m. ET, pairs at 5:30 and men’s at 6:50 p.m. ET. The free skates are Saturday.

Freestyle skiing — moguls: Canadian star Mikaël Kingsbury finds himself in an unusual position: trailing someone in the World Cup men’s moguls standings. Japan’s Ikuma Horishima won the past two events to leapfrog Kingsbury, who’s seeking his 10th consecutive World Cup title and second straight Olympic gold medal. Watch the first of back-to-back moguls competitions on Kingsbury’s home turf at Mont-Tremblant, Que., on Friday at 2 p.m. ET. The second one goes Saturday at the same time.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

Published at Thu, 06 Jan 2022 22:35:02 +0000