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On the world stage / July 21, 2021
Hmm ... let’s see what isn’t completely horrible in the headlines. How about the 2021 Summer Olympics?

Opening ceremonies are set Friday in Tokyo, and Mecklenburg County has a local connection to these Games, thanks to the decision by Team USA Basketball to add former Park View High School product Keldon Johnson to the Olympics roster.

Johnson, a Brodnax native, gives Mecklenburg its second-ever Olympian, after Chase City’s Michael Tucker played for Team USA Baseball in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. Tucker, of course, went on to a productive pro career with the Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs and other MLB franchises, while Keldon Johnson is early into his NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs (whose coach, Gregg Popovich, is head coach of the Olympics men’s basketball team.) Pop is an NBA legend and Johnson will play alongside all-time greats Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard for the United States on the world stage, so you gotta think he’s living his best life right now. Go, KJ and Team USA!

Alas, because we live in the reality we have, not the reality we wish we had, Team USA and the Olympics are both being bedeviled by coronavirus, which could bring the entire production to a screeching halt. (On Tuesday, the CEO of the Tokyo Games suggested a last-minute cancellation remains a possibility. Tokyo recorded 1,387 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest number since January.) Johnson was named to the USA Olympic team as one of two roster replacements, with one of those spots opening up when Washington Wizards superstar Bradley Beal entered coronavirus safety protocols, effectively ruling him out for the Games. Team USA is set to start Olympics action with only eight players on the active roster, a very thin lineup indeed to carry into world competition.

For its part, Japan apparently hasn’t been very successful with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, for reasons unbeknownst to me, but at least its population seems to want to be inoculated in contrast to the anti-vax lunacy that has taken hold in far too many parts of the U.S. But more on that subject in a moment.

If nothing else, pandemic lockdowns and covid-induced mental health stresses over the past year underscore the need to step away from the world’s problems from time to time and enjoy life. If you’re looking for a fun diversion, you could do a lot worse than following pro basketball. (But hurry, the NBA Finals wrap up soon. If the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 Tuesday night, the Bucks win the series and the championship and the season will be over by the time you read this.) Basketball stands as one of the most majestic endeavors in all of sports. That said, there’s a weird prejudice against the pro game, seemingly fed in large part by college basketball diehards (including here in ACC territory) who view the NBA as an inferior product when pretty much the opposite is true. The skill level of the NBA is off the charts right now — the game has always been played by some of the best athletes in the world, but the quality of play has only occasionally measured up to that physical prowess, as it does now.

It certainly helps that the NBA has become a world league — the best player still roaming the court through the Finals round is Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, a.k.a., the Greek Freak, and man, is he a joy to watch dominating the rim. Good thing for Team USA that Giannis won’t be leading Greece in Olympics basketball competition. But the American squad will have to overcome other fabulous talents in Tokyo — Slovenia’s Luka Doncic (another hoops wunderkind that I’ll watch on TV any day), France’s Rudy Gobert (NBA Defensive Player of the Year with the Utah Jazz) and lesser names, all of whom can hoop. It promises to be exciting — and a great opportunity for Keldon Johnson to make his name on a worldwide, let’s hope golden stage.

It was in the course of another great local sports story — Odicci Alexander’s epic turn at the NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma — that I learned that she and Keldon are cousins. What are the chances that Mecklenburg County might lay claim (sooner rather than later, methinks) to a third Olympian, should Odicci someday earn a spot on Team USA Softball?

Because these Summer Games are running a year behind schedule, it’ll only be three years from now when the United States chooses its softball team for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. It’s no stretch to believe that Odicci could notch a Paris invite to add to her amazing personal journey. So, yes, three Olympics, three Mecklenburg County Olympians. Unlikely as the idea may sound, I sure wouldn’t bet against it.


Olympics aside, the world stage isn’t exactly delivering wonderful news for local consumption nowadays. Asking people to stay abreast of problems around the globe is a bit much when we have our fair share of worries here in the U.S. of A., but paying a little attention to headlines out of the United Kingdom would certainly seem like a good idea.

Britain is seeing coronavirus cases spike big-time, despite a generally successful vaccination campaign. The problem? There are still too many people who remain unvaccinated for whatever reason, and the Delta variant of COVID-19 is proving to be highly infectious, although the disease symptoms don’t appear to be any more virulent than what we’ve seen from other covid strains. Aside from the woeful amount of unnecessary sickness and death taking place, the big worry is that the virus will mutate into a vaccine-resistant strain, undoing all the progress that medical science has achieved up to this point in containing the virus.

Here in America, cases are rising in every state in the U.S., and states led by asinine fools — sorry to have to keep pointing this out, but this somehow equates to “right-wing Republicans” — are putting up some of the scariest numbers of all. The Sunshine State of Florida alone accounted for more than 11,000 new cases on Tuesday, nearly one-quarter of the nation’s total for the day. (Florida’s governor is Ron DeSantis, an early favorite to take over the Trumpist mantle if the Real Deal doesn’t run for president in 2024, which I firmly believe Donald Trump will do if he is at all able.) The director of the CDC coined a phrase this week — “pandemic of the unvaccinated” — that sums up where we are at the moment. Vaccine hesitancy, resistance — call it what you will — is dangerous and potentially fatal, with 83 percent of new cases and roughly 99 percent of new deaths occurring among unvaccinated Americans.

It’s bad when people don’t believe the science and place themselves and others at unnecessary risk. (This, by the way, also goes for people who have gotten sick with COVID-19 and now aren’t getting vaccinated, believing their brush with the virus has rendered them immune to it. The research is pretty conclusive on this score: Vaccination confers a much greater level of immunity than prior exposure to COVID-19.) Yet as bad as these wrongheaded personal attitudes may be, they pale in comparison to the cynicism and dishonesty peddled by mass merchants of vaccine disinformation — the Tucker Carlsons and Laura Ingrahams of the Fox News wing-o-sphere, joined by so-called “medical experts” who pop up on the internet with their crackpot diagnoses, and nu politicians like Rand Paul and Ron Johnson, Republican Senators from Kentucky and Wisconsin, respectively, who are lying to their constituents about the efficacy of vaccination either out of perceived political gain, rank stupidity, or both.

These people are more than just merchants of misinformation — they’re merchants of death. How many more people must die before their 15 minutes of notoriety runs out?

On Tuesday, 212 more lives were lost to the virus in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Virginia’s caseload is creeping up despite a statewide vaccine rollout that on balance has been pretty good. In Mecklenburg County, where the rollout hasn’t been so wonderful, four new cases were reported on Tuesday. The health department recorded the last covid death in Mecklenburg (actually, two deaths) on July 5. It would be a crushing experience to have to return to lockdowns because too many people have been fooled into believing that their “freedoms” are in jeopardy from vaccines, ignoring the fact that vaccination has been the standard go-to response against deadly disease for more than a century. Freedom from sickness is one of the most precious freedoms of all. It really is amazing to see liberty’s so-called champions run headlong in the other direction,

Vaccines are safe, effective, free and widely available. Anyone who disputes these simple facts is passing on falsehoods, intentionally or otherwise. And it’s all of us, sadly, who are at risk of paying the price.

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