They deserve the vaccine, if only for letting us dream

After front line medical workers and those with high risk conditions (including age), I’m all for professional athletes being in the next category of folks who receive vaccination for COVID-19.

Last month, in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, Louise Radnofsky and Ben Cohen also argued that professional athletes should get the vaccine early, their logic being that these athletes could be examples to the larger public of the importance of being vaccinated. The article even draws upon a couple of corny lines that could be associated with the campaign (e.g., “Let’s get everyone back in the game,” “When it’s your turn, take a shot”). 

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While I would be thrilled if their reception of the vaccine worked as a model for others (including Black Americans, who historically have had very good reasons for their skepticism to vaccination of any sort), that is only an extra benefit to why I think active professional athletes should receive the vaccination first. I think they deserve an early crack because, in a very important way, they are serving a different type of front line work.  

Professional athletes are giving us an escape again. They are carrying our hopes, dreams and anxieties. They are helping us forget, for minutes at a time, what a dumpster fire this situation has been. 

In the first couple of months of the pandemic, isolation wasn’t necessarily fun, but it was different. And interesting. 

You wondered where we would get your next roll of toilet paper. You discovered Drizly and Instacart. You started building a home gym. You learned new ways of baking bread.  We all did.  In terms of normal entertainment, you Netflixed without chilling. You binged true crime podcasts. You dusted off some of your books and read. You rediscovered the charms of Miyagi-Do.  We all did.

And this was all good, because over time, the low levels of anxiety that some of us were feeling started boiling up from underneath the surface.  You can only tell Zoom jokes for so long. Something needed to help normalize things.

And then it happened. In the midst of the pandemic, in the midst of racial injustice, in the midst of a confounding political situation, sports finally started to makes it way back. 

The National Women’s Soccer League, the NBA, the shortened baseball season, the MLS is Back Tournament, the Premier League. And even given the downright weirdness of having no fans at many of these games, there was something amazingly comforting about the drama of sport. Unlike, say, The Queen’s Gambit—which we all loved—every game is indeterminate. We don’t know how it ends, and neither do the players. And while I have some qualms about the way we rushed college athletes back out, I went from a tad hesitant about the return of professional sports to almost completely supportive.

Take the other night’s Titans win against the Texans.  Who saw that flurry of activity coming that allowed Houston to tie the game up? Then who could have predicted a reception, leading to a field goal that went off and through the post with only a little more than a dozen seconds left, kicked by a guy who had only been signed to the practice squad a few weeks? It’s drama, and it’s a drama that brings us together. Hell, I’m still coming down from that.

While I understand the arguments some made against the return of sports at all, and while I wouldn’t argue that professional athletes are playing a more important role than health care workers, or those keeping our communities safe, I do think they are playing a very important function for us. They give us a sense of normality, a sense of camaraderie, and a place to transfer our anxieties and to find a way once again to dream. And, they are putting themselves in danger doing so. 

We have decided that the risk professional athletes are taking is worthwhile to us. We ought to decide that this gives them a step up in line for the vaccine.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Broadway Sports Media.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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