Chickenpox, diphtheria, flu, hepatitis A and B, HPV, meningococcal, measles, mumps, polio, pneumococcal, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough.
Never did I imagine writing such a lede for a sports column.
So I have ex-Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich to thank for forcing me to look up what I have forever taken for granted — the work epidemiologists and others in medical science have done for decades in countries across the world to help me live as long and well as I have. Unintended good deed, Nick. Thanks.
Up until the last couple of hundred years, those conditions and diseases, along with others, were scourges upon humanity. Mostly, they are no longer, wherever vaccines are available.
The same kinds of public-health-minded professionals — most of whom have friends, families and co-workers, and are Democrats, Republicans, independents and the disengaged — who invented, improved and distributed these medical miracles, have been at work inventing, improving and distributing vaccines that can stymie the covid-19 pandemic.
For the greater good.
Their work has helped many millions, and saved the lives of thousands, including the life of former President Trump. Even the conspiracist-in-chief finally said so publicly, recommending to a rally in Alabama Aug. 22 to take the vaccines: “It’s good; I did it.”
Apparently the encouragement came too late for Rolovich, who alerted the world in July that he would not vaccinate. He never explained; he never wavered. The state of Washington never wavered, but it did explain that vaccinations were a condition of state employment as of Oct. 18, with a few exemptions for medical and religious reasons.
So Monday, the state, via WSU officials, did the expected and fired him, along with four assistant coaches similarly oblivious to the greater good.
For team-sports coaches who virtually make mandatory the notion of personal sacrifice to achieve common goals, the stance of the five coaches was the ultimate sports hypocrisy.
I realize that some in the anti-vax crowd don’t object to vaccines themselves as much as the government making masks and jabs a mandatory part of living and working. They say that vaccines for the diseases listed above have always been voluntary, typically the choices made by parents for their kids.
The difference is that this is a virulent virus killing millions globally, and decimating health-care systems and workers. We have means old (masks) and new (vaccines) to greatly reduce the spread and suffering.
The self-indulgent notion that public-health mandates are some threat to American freedom and independence is a relatively recent conceit preceded by anthropological evidence that epidemics and pandemics have been wiping out millions for centuries, including among indigenous peoples in North and South America and the Caribbean defenseless against diseases of the European colonialists.
Just a guess here, but if the founders had any notion that a federal collective action could defend against a massive public-health threat to the infant republic at the temporary cost of a teensy bit of liberty, they would have created the action and called it the First Amendment to the Constitution.
We don’t know if Rolovich thinks about big-picture constitutional questions. We don’t know what he thinks about many things, because he has spurned all opportunities, as the state’s most well-compensated employee, to explain why he took a public action against public policy that damages a public university. So health-privacy proponents, please take your argument elsewhere.
And damage the university, he did. The imbroglio gave a months-long national black eye to a campus that just built a medical school and has a scientist, Dr. Kirk Schulz, for a president. Rolovich disrupted a football program that that he helped point upward with three wins in a row and a personality far more likable (at least, before July) than his aggravating predecessor, Mike Leach.
Rolovich’s temporary replacement is defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, who has to handle the hot mess of a locker room of young men furious that the coach who thought them worthy of a Pac-12 Conference scholarship has been blown up for non-football reasons dubious to them. Recruiting will be in suspended animation until a permanent coach is hired. Meanwhile, the NCAA may as well paint the transfer portal crimson and gray.
To WSU’s credit, it stood firm in the face of players’ complaints and a loud minority of fans and boosters supportive of Rolovich. Athletics director Pat Chun, whose impressive resume likely will be blighted by his hire of Rolovich, made it clear on video conference Monday evening with reporters that the damaging consequences had to be endured for the greater good.
“This is unacceptable,” he said, “on so many levels.”
Shulz had Chun’s back.
“Vaccine mandates work,” he said. “Vaccines are safe and highly effective. Here in Pullman, the total number of COVID-19 cases as of today is seven – out of a population of nearly 24,000 students, faculty and staff.”
As a nation, the vast majority has accepted the virtue and value of vaccines as a life-enhancer. We accept the government mandates that green is go, red is stop, smoking is banned in bars, and we’re the home of the brave.
As for resistance to putting something unknown into one’s body, my question remains the same.
“Have you ever eaten a stadium hot dog?”
For the greater good in a massive public crisis, firing Rolovich was the mandatory minimum.