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In vaccination battles, pro athletes become proxy players | Health, Med. & Fitness



“They can feel a sort of lack of trust, with memories of the Tuskegee experiments and forced sterilization for women of color,” Hayashi says. “Those identities are not stripped away in these situations.”

The stance of Djokovic might similarly resonate in the Serbian athlete’s home country, given its role in European conflicts of the 20th century.

“For Djokovic, the Serbian community with their role in Europe and how they’ve been presented as bad guys, he can become a symbol for some certainly by asserting a sort of national pride with the way he’s standing up,” Hayashi says.

While sports have always been indivisible from politics and public conflicts, there has been a major ground shift in the years since Michael Jordan made public neutrality on all non-sports issues an essential part of his brand. Today there is almost an expectation of advocacy, especially with the precedent set by Colin Kaepernick’s protests and the embrace by many athletes of the Black Lives Matter cause.

“We expect an awful lot of them,” Leibowitz says. “We ask them to fix hate and hurt. And now we expect a groundswell from them on public health.”

These expectations were heightened through the cultural crucible of the Trump era, which Harvey says were “defined by celebrity advocacy” under a president who himself — as businessman, reality-TV star and general high-profile person — helped build the notion of celebrity voice into an American bully pulpit in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.



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