If you happen to see Rudy Gobert and he seems sad, you should probably blame Rep. Chris Stewart.
The 2nd District congressman announced this week he would boycott the Utah Jazz indefinitely after the team and officials at the Vivint Arena announced they would require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination to attend Jazz games and other events at the arena.
Their effort to keep the former Delta Center from turning into the Delta Variant Center really touched a nerve with the Republican politician who is normally pretty unflappable.
I mean this guy supported Donald Trump through four years of ridiculous behavior, he supported outrageous and unsubstantiated election claims — voting not to approve the 2020 election results.
He couldn’t even muster this level of outrage when right-wing rioters did something that had never been done since the War of 1812 and occupied the Capitol in a bid to subvert American democracy.
“I will never allow a private company to require that I show proof of any medical procedure to visit their facility,” Stewart wrote in a Facebook post. “I will never carry a vaccination passport. I will never share any of my private medical information with anyone except my health providers. So, though vaccinated, I will not be going to any Utah Jazz games this year.”
Presumably, he’ll also miss out on Disney On Ice and the upcoming Monster Jam monster truck rally.
He wasn’t alone in being upset. Angry Jazz fans were all over social media blasting the policy, proclaiming their fandom in one breath, then washing their hands of the team. Some said they were unloading their season tickets.
Again, this is not a vaccine mandate. Fans have a choice. If they don’t want to get vaccinated, they can get a test. If they refuse to get tested, fine. Good riddance. When Donovan Mitchell pulls up for a game-winning jumper or Gobert swats the ball into the 15th row, I assure you that the furthest thing from their minds will be whether congressman Stewart and his buddies are in the stands.
And the team doesn’t care if you don’t want tickets. Maybe a few years ago when they were struggling they would have, but now there is a long list of people waiting for seats. I’m sure those people appreciate your tantrum.
The 18,300 screaming, vaccinated fans won’t miss you, either. In fact, they should appreciate being able to go to a game without anti-vaxxers, potentially endangering their health. The team had to know it would upset certain parts of their fan base, potentially even a congressman or legislator, but this is about safety.
Not only is it the responsible thing to do, it also might mean the Jazz won’t have to face Brooklyn Nets’ star Kyrie Irving — the most prominent player with qualms about getting the shot and also a believer that the Earth might be flat, because he did his own research. (No, really.)
I’ve written recently that sweeping government-imposed vaccine mandates should be a last resort. But this is a private entity taking the prerogative on its own.
Back in May, I wrote about The Bayou, one of my favorite Salt Lake City restaurants and bars, being (to my knowledge) the first business in the state to require proof of vaccination to dine there. Yes, there was a backlash from the fringe groups that would probably never eat there anyway. It was, in my mind, a business showing social responsibility and caring for its customers and staff. And they’re doing just fine.
I’ve been to a few concerts now where proof of vaccination is required — usually at the artist’s request — and it eases the tension of being packed in with people, and it shows respect for the artists and venue employees.
The decision by the Utah Jazz and Vivint arena is no different.
That’s because the science thus far tells us that a sporting event, especially indoors, where people are packed inside and yelling, is a nightmare scenario for preventing the spread of COVID. The risk these events pose — and responsibility to fans, players and staff — is why professional sports teams around the country are taking an approach similar to the Jazz.
In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks are requiring fans to be vaccinated. In the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks, Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints are doing the same (although some allow a negative test).
The Raiders are taking an interesting approach of letting fans in with one shot into the game wearing a mask — and administering the shots in the parking lot outside the stadium. It’s a model the Jazz could follow.
There will probably be some Utah legislator who tries to keep businesses from requiring vaccinations or punishing those that do — because they are such firm believers in the free market. Gov. Spencer Cox, to his credit, said he would veto such legislation and we’ll see if that commitment holds.
Because in taking a firm stand when it comes to protecting the health of fans and employees, the Jazz have set an example that other businesses will hopefully now feel empowered to follow and sent a message to those who refuse to get a vaccine: We’re done coddling you. If you want to be part of our community, then you can take a small step to contribute to protect that community and get the vaccine or at the very least get tested.
If not, nobody will miss you. And that goes for you, too, congressman.