An ongoing dialogue on HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases,
January 18th, 2022
Novak Djokovic Thinks He Can Play by His Own Rules — Australia Says Think Again
There was a truly talented kid on my ninth grade basketball team — let’s call him Robbie G.
He was a terrific player, fast and confident on the court, always eager to play, and just brimming with enthusiasm for the game. Every time he scored, the team and crowd (small as it was) buzzed with excitement and shouted his name. A joy to watch.
But — and this might surprise you based on my introduction so far — Robbie was an immature jerk.
The rules didn’t apply to him. He did what he wanted during practice, and with few exceptions, the coach just shrugged and let him.
More from Robbie: He jokingly (ha ha) taunted the less-good players on the team, which meant just about everyone received some knocks. I certainly learned to avoid him both in the locker room and on the bench (where I spent most of my time during games).
When our team lost, or even worse — when he met his match in an opponent who guarded him closely — he became a petulant baby. These were not good times to cross his path, or heaven forbid try to comfort him.
This behavior carried over to non-basketball settings, and in school he was a terror. Sometimes a bully, sometimes only a disruptive nuisance, he quickly made his his presence known to everyone nearby — the effect amplified by a small group of less-talented (and equally annoying) sycophants.
I couldn’t help but think of Robbie while reading the news about Novak Djokovic, currently the best tennis player in the world. He can’t play in the Australian Open this year since he’s refused COVID-19 vaccination, and the Australian government will not approve his visa.
Like Robbie’s artistry on the basketball court, only scaled up to the adult and professional level, Djokovic’s tennis is a sight to behold. Here, let sports writer (and avid tennis fan) Joe Posnanski describe it (I’d never do it justice):
…He blends the most incomprehensible array of weapons — blazing speed, unmatched anticipation, a mathematician’s sense of angles, a tireless hunger to return every shot, a dream of a backhand and the best return of serve in tennis history — and turns every match into an art exhibit.
But … see what I wrote up there about Robbie, and the rules not applying to him? This fits the Djokovic affair perfectly. It also fits that Djokovic gave an interview and posed for a photoshoot for a media group after exposure to COVID-19 and testing positive by PCR.
I feel fine. Some of my tests were negative. See, the rules don’t apply to me.
High-level athletic ability facilitates this I-know-best view of the world. Here’s the recipe: A lifetime of winning. Adulation by friends, fans, teammates, coaches. Intense competitiveness. Suspicion of others. Wanting to beat others.
Mix these all together, and of course a person ingesting this potent brew is going to think they know best for themselves. Each win proves them right, reinforcing the problem.
In fact, we’re so used to hearing stories about rule-breaking behavior among professional athletes — how about football’s Aaron Roger’s definition of ‘immunized’? — that those who express thoughtful and generous sentiments stand out as model citizens. Tennis has two of these exemplars at ready hand, Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal. Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic — the “big three” — have dominated men’s tennis for over a decade.
Says Nadal, with searing accuracy, about the whole Djokovic affair:
If he wanted, he would definitely be playing here without a problem. Everybody is free to make their own decision – but there are some consequences, no?
Bravo. And let the record show that 97 out of the top 100 tennis players in the world are vaccinated. Djokovic, one of the three unvaccinated, refused the vaccine because he thought he could. His rules. The Australian government, citing their rules, said otherwise.
Back to Robbie G. for a moment. Remember, there’s another important difference between my basketball teammate Robbie and Djokovic, one that goes way beyond their relative fame, fortune, and chosen sport.
Robbie was 14 years old. Djokovic is 34.