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Whitlock: The NFL’s COVID hypocrisy and French philosopher Voltaire enlighten us on how to combat unfairness

Op-ed
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Imagine being Cole Beasley, Kirk Cousins, Lamar Jackson, or any of the NFL players refusing to take the COVID vaccine, walking onto a football field this past weekend and seeing a packed stadium of mostly maskless fans.

How would you feel? What would you think?

You might think COVID-19 is something the NFL won't let impede its pursuit of success. You might think the league mirrors your belief that COVID, like other deadly viruses such as the flu, is something we all need to learn to live with and work around. You might see a larger lesson in the league's handling of the pandemic, an example that can be applied to all aspects of life, including the NFL's alleged fixation on racial justice.

The NFL established a restrictive set of protocols and potential fines for its unvaccinated players. Beasley and Cousins have been criticized across social media and on national media platforms for being selfish vax deniers. They're allegedly endangering their vaccinated teammates and jeopardizing the competitive edge and finances of their teams.

But on game days, 60,000 spectators will cram into a stadium and sweaty, hard-breathing football players will collide and wrestle with each for three solid hours. Every safety protocol is broken in deference to financial success.

That's what happened this weekend as a full slate of NFL exhibition contests played out on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The NFL canceled its maskerade on game day.

The whole thing was disconcerting. Every day we're told that COVID is an existential threat. Anyone who doesn't wear a mask is an irresponsible narcissist and a possible insurrectionist.

I'm someone who takes COVID seriously. As I wrote last week, my media sidekick, Uncle Jimmy, contracted the virus within the past week. He's been at home sick, battling a fever and several of the other complications related to the virus. Also, my own obesity makes me take the pandemic seriously. But I simply do not know what to believe about COVID safety.

This confusion is particularly true when it comes to professional sports. What's the agenda? Safety? Or vaccine propaganda?

Last year, we watched football and basketball players compete on the field and court while their mask-wearing coaches shouted instructions at them. The whole thing was stupid. Most coaches pulled down their masks when they had something important to say and really wanted to be heard. There was no consistency or legitimate purpose to what they were doing.

The government had clearly convinced our sports leagues to participate in a marketing campaign to promote mask-wearing. Live sports are the best vehicle to push a wide message. If millions of Americans see superstar quarterback Tom Brady wearing a mask on the sidelines of an NFL game, they will assume cloth over your mouth and nose slows a deadly virus.

It's not true, but modern society loves cosmetic theater and the appearance of effort. It's the equivalent of watching a quarterback take a knee during the national anthem, then justifying it by claiming, "Well, he's starting a conversation about racism, and the conversation is the first step." America and Americans have been talking about race and racism for 400 years. Colin Kaepernick did not start a conversation. He exploited the existing conversation.

COVID might be like a lot of potentially deadly viruses, including racism. The solution is likely in learning to live with it and taking the necessary preventive steps to stop it from harming you and your loved ones. Exercise, weight loss, a vitamin regimen, and an immune system-supporting diet are the equivalent of racism fighters such as education, self-reliance, nuclear families, and religious faith.

Last season, Tom Brady and other NFL players wore silly slogans and/or the names of resisting criminal suspects allegedly harmed by police misconduct on the backs of their helmets. Brady chose two words, "End Racism."

Maybe this season he'll choose "End Colds" or "End the Flu" or "End Sin" or "End Smelly Farts."

Human beings are flawed. All of us occasionally or consistently give in to our biases. It's not a good thing. However, anyone with an elementary understanding of world history knows racial bias will never end and that no country has done more to combat and subdue racism than America. Americans, black and white, sacrificed their blood seeking fairness and racial harmony. We've removed racist laws, enacted new legislation to redress racial sins, and created institutions to investigate, discourage, and punish instances of discrimination.

Unfortunately, unfairness is not going anywhere. Our human flaws make unfairness impossible to eradicate. Same as COVID.

The price of freedom directly correlates to the level of risk an individual or group is willing to tolerate.

During the age of enlightenment, Voltaire, the prolific French writer and philosopher, explained that "perfect is the enemy of good" and that the pursuit of perfection disrupts progress.

Have our idealistic standards and quest for perfection disrupted COVID and racial progress? Have they sparked a deadly division within the United States?

You don't need me to answer those questions. We haven't been this divided in 160 years.

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