Novak Djokovic, arguably the greatest tennis player to ever pick up a racket, has tested positive for the coronavirus, and for this I feel sympathy. (For all I know, that might where I’m headed in the next few days.) But unlike me, and unlike, say, Nick Watney, it doesn’t quite seem like Djokovic is an innocent victim, or somebody who took a calculated risk in service of performing his job. Instead, he’s somebody who has flaunted sound medical advice and real science for months now, and who seemed hellbent on walking a path that led to an inevitable destination.
I mean, look at this fucking moron:
That was at a party in Serbia, which is an example of egregious stupidity. But somehow, the Adria Tour was even worse. That’s a tennis exhibition he organized, featuring the likes of Sasha Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, and Marin Cilic, and the fact that it was completely unnecessary was made worse by how clearly and openly Djokovic disdained social distancing. There were hugs, handshakes, close photographs, and more, and in the end it had to be canceled when Dimitrov tested positive. (Later, Borno Coric also tested positive, as well as a handful of staff.)
The cherry on top of this sundae is that Djokovic left Croatia without being tested, even after he knew Coric and Dimitrov had tested positive. That’s wildly irresponsible, and the whole exhibition drew the ire of his fellow pros. Here’s Kiki Bertens, after watching Djokovic, but before he tested positive:
“I saw photos of Novak Djokovic shaking hands with everyone and taking pictures with the authorities during the presentation of the Adria Tour. How can this be? In which part of the world is this allowed?”
And here’s Nick Kyrgios, not known as the most level-headed personality in the tennis world, commenting on Twitter:
“Prayers up to all the players that have contracted Covid – 19. Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake.”
And it wasn’t just Djokovic who caught the virus—Borna Coric and Grigor Dimitrov, who joined him at the Adria Tour, also got hit.
The disastrous Adria Tour is, unfortunately, only the start of his greatest hits during the pandemic. Here’s a handy rundown from Ben Rothenberg:
The anti-vaccine sentiments were stated clearly and unambiguously:
“I personally oppose vaccines and would not want to be forced to get vaccinated to travel,” he said in a social media chat. “But what will I do if it becomes mandatory? I will have to make a decision, I have my own thoughts on the subject. ”
In the now-famous Instagram, Djokovic and some self-styled guru talked about how poisonous water can be changed with the power of the mind. No, really:
The conversation between Djokovic and Jafarieh took an unexpected turn when the tennis player spoke of his belief that people’s energy can change the world around them, change the chemical composition of food or water with their thoughts and emotions.
“I have seen people and I know people who, through energetic transformation, the power of prayer, the power of gratitude, are able to transform the most toxic food, the most contaminated water, into the most curative water. Because water reacts and scientists have proven that water reacts to your emotions. ” Jafarieh agreed.
For me, this guy has totally destroyed his own reputation. The combination of proud ignorance, anti-scientific mindset, and an almost sociopathic willingness to put other people at risk is reminiscent, on a less egregious but still infuriating level, of our commander in chief. It’s only a matter of time before Djokovic becomes a spokesman for hydroxychloroquine.
The road back for sports like tennis is going to be long and hard, and full of setbacks. We’re already seeing it in golf, where one positive test sent the media reeling this past weekend, and the PGA Tour basically has to pray that things don’t go completely haywire in Connecticut this week. Even when you do everything right, there’s risk.
Considering the reality of how hard this is going to be, the athletes with the most visibility don’t necessarily need to be “leaders,” but they do need to avoid actively making things worse. Staging an exhibition tournament where nobody follows protocols and a bunch of people get COVID does nothing except cast doubt on the future of tennis in 2020 and make the ATP’s job that much harder.
And it’s not like he’s reluctant to embrace leadership. This is the PRESIDENT of the ATP Tour’s player council. (Which is a position he should lose immediately, by the way.) Tennis needs him now, and he’s been worse than a no-show; everything he does seems engineered to set tennis back, and nuke his own reputation.
Bottom line: Now it’s personal. The whole world must be united behind Rafa Nadal in the battle for the most slams in tennis history.
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