In that one-way-mirror approach that Americans bring to anything happening outside their own borders, the story of the Toronto Blue Jays and vaccination restrictions is missing a key detail.
Yes, non-resident baseball players who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 cannot travel to Canada to play games. That part is front and centre.
What’s missing is that this isn’t some sort of northern socialist conspiracy. This regulation applies the other way, as well. Just as any non-Canadian entering Canada must be fully up-to-date on their shots, any non-American citizen entering the United States must abide by the same rule. But you won’t read that in the sportiest U.S. sports outlets. It messes up a simple ‘Us vs. Them’ narrative.
It’s almost as though the Jays should have gone out and got one utility player who loves personal freedom so that they could say, “Look. Us too, man.”
This story has been simmering for a while, but it will properly hit the headlines on Monday. That’s when Boston arrives in Toronto for a road swing.
How many Red Sox are fans of Antonin Scalia and his originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution? And what would the Founders have said about vaccines (aside from ‘What’s a vaccine?’)?
We don’t know yet, but it might be more than a few.
One that we know is starter Tanner Houck. He was outed last week when the Jays were in New England. Knowing Houck won’t be able to travel, the Red Sox decided to make him available over the weekend out of the bullpen.
“I’m excited for it,” Houck told reporters. “And you know I’ve always said, anything I can do to help the team win.”
Well, not anything.
However many Red Sox are missing, it will be a story. It will continue being a story for the next few weeks as various teams make their 2022 international debut. It will become a story again if the Jays make the playoffs. And it will probably be a story next year when Canada decides it prefers its visitors vaccinated for all time.
We have reached the point in the pandemic where its primary cultural function is giving people who like to argue something to argue about. Sports is a handy cudgel.
On the one hand, sports is obsessively observed by lots of normal people – fans, broadcasters, reporters – who require some amount of friction for their trouble. Every once in a while, something has to happen that creates in you an irrepressible urge to yell at a screen.
Maybe Tanner Houck’s choices are giving you that right now. Or, conversely, maybe the people who are angry at Tanner Houck are giving it to you instead. Either way, vaccinations are doing their job. They are providing additional incentive to watch the Jays-Red Sox this week. Had Houck played in the series in Toronto, his scheduled start would have been Tuesday.
On the other hand, there are the pros. They don’t want to talk about vaccines. They don’t care any more. It’s doubtful many of them ever did. The ones who do care only care in that Aaron Rodgers way of caring – that they believe their nervous system is superhuman and that were you, a regular shmoe, to bathe in their blood, you might live forever.
This tension – the people who would like to make a thing out of vaccines vs. people who are sick of hearing about it – reflects what’s going on in society.
We’ve talked a lot recently about professional athletes leading the societal conversation. For those who thought it would be all social justice all the time, this is the unintended consequence.
If you encourage famous people to pop off on topics they aren’t expert in (including regular life), they are eventually going to do it in ways you don’t like.
You’ll notice the sports split is not along right-left lines. It’s class-based. The players are their own social class. Excepting a few initial outbursts, they’ve stuck together on this one (and on just about everything else). The players who are vaccinated don’t call out the ones who aren’t. In fact, they’ll go out of their way to defend them. Most of all, they’d prefer never to talk about it.
It’s only some of the rest of us – the lower, non-playing sporting classes – who get exercised about it.
As with cross-border rules, that key detail is also missing from this conversation.
How would it work if you or I decided that we were going to stop travelling for our jobs because we didn’t want to follow public health guidelines? You or I would be fired.
If we walked into our boss’s office and started monologuing about alternative medicine, we’d have to finish that speech in the parking lot after security chucked us out on our head.
In baseball (and every other sport), tolerance of your vaccination status is entirely dependent on your talent. Is your talent great enough to outweigh the inconvenience to your employer? If so, the rules don’t apply to you.
That’s the real story here – that some of us are ‘free’ to do whatever the hell we want, and most of us aren’t. That’s too troubling an idea to tackle in the Sports pages, so what we get is ‘How’s Tanner Houck gonna feel if Boston gets blown out on Tuesday and ends up missing the playoffs by one game?’ instead.
Some day, someone will write a great book about how we all got snookered into believing that a bunch of kajillionaires were just like us, and had our best interests at heart. So much so, that we should be listening to them and following their example. Forget about your fellow regular people. Listen to the man in spandex instead.
But for now, we can satisfy ourselves knowing if there’s any general good coming out of this particular example of noblesse un-oblige, at least it’s helping the many needy billionaires who own baseball teams in Canada.