Taking Responsibility

By returnwinner

Who’s responsible for Novak Djokovic being deported from Australia last month?

Ask any Novak fan and a menagerie of odious characters and shadowy entities emerge: Craig Tiley and Tennis Australia, Australian Border Force, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, the Victorian state government, the Australian public, journalists in the media, Novak’s agent, Ben Rothenberg’s Twitter account, a poorly thought-out Instagram post, and so on.

But as tempting as it is for fans to seek nuance, devising an ever-expanding list of figures to blame obscures Novak’s role in this entire saga.

Novak has long been a believer in the idea that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ It’s an outlook I’ve long despised because it reframes what is typically needless, avoidable suffering as a virtuous event in some divine (albeit always hidden), grander narrative.

But make no mistake – Novak’s deportation was avoidable. Had Novak gotten the vaccine, he would have frictionlessly entered the country and played the tournament as 99% of other players did. He chose not to and bore the very brutal, public brunt of that decision.

Without knowing Novak’s precise reasoning for not getting the vaccine, it’s hard to decipher what argument or evidence would persuade him, though he says he remains open-minded on the topic.

Strictly medical or scientific arguments seem doomed to fail – there are simply too many outliers or excuses one can make to wriggle out of being convinced. Indeed, the responses to this earnest tweet should give a good indication of the wild trajectories this approach is likely to yield.  

The strongest arguments, to me at least, have always had a pragmatic element: your career requires you to travel, many countries require vaccination to enter – vis-à-vis you either get vaccinated or you’re effectively semi-retired.

And yet, Novak said he will forego competing in any slam or tournament that mandates the vaccine, easily defanging any leverage this approach had. For Novak fans who want him to get vaccinated, it’s hard to know where to go from here.

Novak did not make this decision on a whim – he understands the gravity of his choice and the impact it will have on his career and legacy. For Novak fans like me, the fact that he’s considered this issue carefully only makes his ultimate decision harder to comprehend and rationalise.

Sticking to one’s principles under both great pressure and incentive to cave is an admirable quality, and certainly, one lacking in today’s atmosphere of conformity and group-think – especially online.

Yet understanding this concept in an abstract sense does not make it any less devastating that none of the slam titles, the glory, the hard-fought victories, and the heart-breaking losses that mean so much to me were enough to sway him towards getting the vaccine. It is painful to see something so valuable, and the potential for more, being tossed around as though it means nothing.

Novak speaking to Amol Rajan of the BBC.

When your favourite player errs in judgement, fans are wont to search irrationally for external factors to scapegoat their favourite. But once the heat dies down most fans will typically, albeit often quietly, accept whatever role their favourite played in any given scandal and silently pray that a lesson will be learned for next time.

Yet a very vocal subsection of his Twitter fanbase is celebrating Novak’s decision as good, actually. This group of fans has taken to attacking other fans, myself included, for having the gall to hope he changes his mind or expressing even the mildest criticism of the self-destructive path he’s chosen.

Having spent the last fortnight arguing with my online interlocutors on the other side, I have nothing useful or productive to add to what I’ve already said:

Looking for others to blame and downplaying the very real agency Novak had in determining his destiny in both Australia and beyond does him no good. Nodding along to every reckless decision he makes and saying it’s valid, righteous, and ultimately justified does not make you a good fan. It makes you a yes-man.

When you truly love someone, that means you care about the choices they make. You have to tell them things that are painful and uncomfortable. As much as Novak may not want to hear it, you might even have to tell him ‘no.’

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