NC State’s baseball team had a heartbreaking end to its season. It looked like the team was going to give fans another Cinderella story, beating the odds and the best teams in college baseball to go to the College World Series. Instead, the team was eliminated because players tested positive for COVID. 

Some angry NC State fans are blaming the NCAA, but the coaches and team knew the rules. The NCAA is clear: “Fully vaccinated student-athletes and other Tier 1 individuals with no COVID-19-like symptoms may be exempt from routine testing. Student-athletes and other Tier 1 participants who are not vaccinated must continue to undergo testing at NCAA championships.” In other words, the rules say that if you are vaccinated you’ll be able to play. If you’re not, you’re gambling with the future of your season. State rolled the dice.

For all of those people who believe in freedom more than vaccines, the NCAA gave athletes and coaches the freedom to choose. But freedom has consequences, or, as a lot people like to say, freedom isn’t free. It cost NC State a shot at national championship. When two State players tested positive, the testing expanded to the whole team and more players were found to have the virus. The NCAA may have been artless in how it handled the announcement, but it followed the rules set for every team. 

Coach Eliot Avent apparently didn’t recommend that his players get a vaccine because he didn’t want “to indoctrinate my kids with my values or my opinions.” The effectiveness and safety of the vaccines don’t, or shouldn’t, have anything to do with values or opinions. Still, Avent let a bunch of kids barely out of high school decide the fate of his ball club. That is poor coaching at best and negligence at worst. 

Really, though, NC State’s run was doomed by Donald Trump and the Republicans that politicized the pandemic and vaccinations. Donald Trump spent the first six months downplaying the threat of COVID as more than 500,000 people died and then they refused to ever engage in the campaign to get people vaccinated. He and the Republicans who parrot him told their loyal, ignorant followers that the disease was hoax, that it wasn’t that serious, and that vaccination is question of freedom without ever debunking the gibberish flowing from right-wing conspiracy theorists. 

Clearly, Coach Avent was influenced by the politicization of the vaccines. He didn’t want to cross Donald Trump and the GOP, so he allowed his team to go unvaccinated. Other teams made different decisions and two of them are still standing in the College World Series. 

Right now, we have two Americas—the vaccinated one and the unvaccinated one. In the vaccinated America, Donald Trump is mostly a bad memory and life is getting back to normal. People are going out to eat, enjoying bars, socializing like they did before the pandemic, even if some are still wearing masks. 

In the unvaccinated America, Fox News and OAN are still brewing conspiracy theories and casting doubt on the safety of the vaccine. In that world, Donald Trump is still the legitimate president, vaccines are a matter of personal freedom instead of public responsibility, and the pandemic is still taking lives, with new variants causing a surge in cases in some areas. The only people dying from the disease today are the ones who are unvaccinated.

In the world of sports, the teams that are winning are those living in vaccinated America. The unvaccinated teams that are losing can thank Donald Trump and the GOP.  


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