To Whom Do We Listen?
Subscribers to the online version of the Spokesman-Review can signup to receive an early morning email, “Your Morning Review”. I recommend it. Besides highlighting several prominent articles, “Your Morning Review” usually offers a section headlined “Yesterday’s Most Read” that lists in order the ten articles that garnered the most clicks in the prior twenty-four hours. The email offers a digital glimpse of what headlines online S-R readers think are worth looking at. Last Wednesday the first, third, seventh, and eighth of the ten most clicked articles concerned the flap over John Stockton’s refusal to wear a face mask at Gonzaga basketball games. I was encouraged to note Shawn Vestal’s opinion piece (copied and pasted below) was the click-leader, “It’s a failure of simple courtesy, not crackpot beliefs, that cost Stockton his tickets”. In third place was “NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton draws ire for anti-vaccine comments”, featuring a photo of the bronze statue of John Stockton outside the arena in Salt Lake City adorned with a surgical mask.
In an Spokesman Q&A article the prior Sunday, January 23rd, entitled, “John Stockton talks Gonzaga basketball suspension, COVID-19 vaccine opposition and more” (the eighth most clicked article the following Tuesday), Mr. Stockton is offered a forum to expound on his anti-vaccine, anti-mask views. A lead quote from that Q&A, “Getting back to the masks at Gonzaga, I just want to go and watch the games. I want to mind my own business, watch the games, go home and talk about the Zags.” is disingenuous bullshit. Simply by wearing a mask at the basketball games he could watch the games with zero danger to his own health (as well as a risk reduction to the health of his neighbors in the bleachers). But no, Mr. Stockton has “done his own research”, by which he means this: On account of his personal doubts and suspicions of science and medicine, he seeks out materials that support his preconceived biases and dismisses a vast body of scientific literature on vaccines and masks. He says that in so many words: “It’s very difficult to find information that counters that [the broadly available information in the news] and it takes a little bit more work.”
If I am suspicious of the motives of the scientists responsible for the consensus that the earth is a sphere it will, indeed, “take a bit more work” to find the contrary opinion that confirms that bias. However, internet confirmation of my bias is available at my fingertips. A google search and a little clicking around will take me to the Flat Earth Society website. There I find lengthy “proofs” that my anti-spherical earth bias is pure truth (along with confirmation of my suspicions that round-earth proponents are conspiring to suppress the truth about the earth’s shape).
It is tempting to dismiss the discourse on the Flat Earth Society website as a spoof. That would be wrong. These people are entirely sincere. Pointing out holes in their arguments is as much a waste of time as trying to discuss geology or the science of global warming with a sincere believer in a seven day creation that happened six thousand years ago.
Similarly, John Stockton is sincere in his anti-vaccination, anti-mask convictions. His sincerity led him, in June 2021, to step out of his sports bubble to appear in a widely panned anti-vaccination documentary. Now he highlights his conviction by making a spectacle out of his refusal to wear a mask at Gonzaga basketball games, the coverage of which refusal he uses to lend his little remaining credibility to patently false statements, e.g. that over 100 professional athletes (“there’s 150 I believe now”) have dropped dead on account of the Covid vaccines while engaged in their sports.
Shawn Vestal strikes the proper tone on Stockton’s internet “research” to confirm his preconceived notion: Stockton’s refusal to wear a mask at the Gonzaga games is a failure of courtesy to his fellow sports fans—the community. I’ve copied Mr. Vestal’s words below—and once again I note that reading Vestal’s columns is a primary value of a Spokesman subscription.
At the same time, take note that Jonathan Bingle, newly elected to the City of Spokane City Council, is flaunting the mask-wearing rules of City Hall just like Stockton flaunted Gonzaga’s rules. If only the City had the same backbone that Gonzaga demonstrated…
Keep to the high ground,
John Stockton didn’t lose his seats at the McCarthey Athletic Center because he believes a lot of utter balderdash about COVID-19 and vaccines.
He does, as he has now made obvious for the world to see, believe a lot of utter balderdash about COVID-19 and vaccines. A whole lot.
To pick just two of the most embarrassing things: He peddled, in an interview published Sunday in The Spokesman-Review, the unbelievable and oft-debunked notion that lots and lots of professional athletes worldwide are dropping dead in the middle of games due to vaccinations, as well as the wildly incorrect claim that for those younger than age 70, “we’re at literally no risk of dying … if we eat well, live well, drink water, take care of our bodies in a holistic fashion.”
These are both groundless assertions that come from the far, far outer edges of pandemic insanity – farther out, perhaps, than we might have guessed even knowing that Stockton was in the business of retailing anti-vaxxer conspiracies. Understandably, the wave of public backlash to Stockton’s long, error-filled Q-and-A with the S-R, was focused on some of his most ignorant statements.
But it is not those statements that cost him his tickets.
It was two things, and two things only: His selfishness over a matter of common courtesy and Gonzaga’s admirable willingness to take a stand.
Obviously, Stockton doesn’t believe in masking, because that would require knowing and believing in what the ever-expanding body of research demonstrates – masking works to limit viral spread. It helps us do things like enjoy basketball games and keep the schools open. There are large-scale, randomized trials that show this, as well as scores of observational studies; the University of Michigan recently reported that it compared Michigan school districts and found there was 62% less viral transmission in schools that had mask mandates compared to those that did not.
And yet, even that is not the crux of this issue. Gonzaga does not require you to accept the scientific evidence about masks or vaccines or who dies of COVID-19. It does not require you to believe the truth.
It merely requires you to be a considerate guest. It merely requires you to do what you agree to do when you buy a ticket: follow the house rules.
Is that too much to ask? It was for Stockton, obviously.
Wearing a mask is a pain in the neck. Wearing a mask, months and months into this pandemic, has become wearisome. No one likes it, but it’s also just not a very big deal. Only those who have become blinded by conspiratorial lies and negative partisanship are willing to turn mask-wearing into their own personal Waterloos.
The entire matter can be separated completely from what Stockton believes. If you’re invited into a place – a home, a store, a classroom, a gym – and your host asks you to follow certain rules, you should not simply ignore that request and assume you’re the one guy who doesn’t have to follow them.
Even if you’re a big shot.
The truth is, out of anyone watching any GU game, Stockton was most likely to get away with something based only on who he is, and he took advantage of that, refusing the university’s repeated entreaties to wear a mask. And, while he’s surely not the only mask refusenik in the gym, he’s the one likeliest to be shown bare-faced on national TV every single time he’s there.
That put GU in an impossible position, based on the state mask mandate and university rules. People in and around Zag circles have been talking about his bare face for weeks. Those who follow the rules could fairly wonder why the university wasn’t enforcing them with Stockton, and those who wanted to flout the rules could look to GU’s most famous alum as an example.
Here’s how Stockton put it in the interview: “Basically, it came down to they were asking me to wear a mask to the games, and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit and therefore they received complaints and felt like from whatever the higher-ups – those weren’t discussed but from whatever it was higher up – they were going to have to either ask me to wear a mask or they were going to suspend my tickets.”
Props to GU, which had already sent a clear signal about mask compliance by shutting down concessions, for doing the right thing.
Stockton was a spectacular basketball player. He exhibited a form of genius on the court, which is why it’s such a disappointment that his critical thinking skills off-court are so poor.
At the end of the day, though, his absence at McCarthey represents not what he thinks or says or believes, but how he chose to act.
The most unselfish player in NBA history couldn’t be bothered to show a little common courtesy.