All I would say about the players who refuse vaccinations is that they are perfectly free to do so, and I will put the house on Cartwright being first scorer in the Gold Coast’s return match, running through a huge gap untouched. And if the earth was round, wouldn’t all the kicks run off into touch? Think about that for a second and you might think twice before calling the non-vaccinators ignorant, selfish, uninformed and gullible.
That said, the document the NRL was asking the players to sign did attempt to pick an unnecessary fight. The controversial waiver was quite acceptable to all players – or at least the main part, which released the game from liability if the players’ decision to refuse a flu shot caused themselves or anyone else to get sick or die. That legal indemnity, which the players did sign, should have been enough. But the document went further. The section of the waiver the players put a line through was a series of statements basically implying that if they didn’t get a flu shot, they were bloody idiots. That may be true, but it wasn’t necessary. And vaccination was misspelt as ‘vacination’, which just proves that anti-vaxxers don’t hold a monopoly on dumb.
Cartwright, moreover, objected to being called an ‘anti-vaxxer’. ‘Not once have I said I am anti-vaccinations’, he said through Instagram, showing to his credit that some players know how to use social media to explain rather than just, or only, embarrass themselves.
‘I’ve never claimed to be a doctor or a medical professional,’ he went on. Well, no arguments there. The fans of a couple of clubs have disputed Cartwright’s claim to be a fully-committed professional football player, but at least he’s not masquerading as a doctor as well.
But what did he mean by opposing vaccinations while not wanting to be called an ‘anti-vaxxer’? To clarify, he said, ‘I have nothing against people who choose to vaccinate’. Well, that’s a relief. Apart from risking catching the flu themselves and possibly spreading it to others, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 or a host of other illnesses, it’s good to know that the anti-vaxxers have nothing against the vaxxers. Cartwright only meant he was anti-vaccination for himself and his family. Nothing to do with other people. (‘And Cartwright runs through another yawning gap to post his second try in the opening 10 minutes…!’)
What was really going on here? Any more temperamental, disorganised and anarchistic, and some members of the league community would qualify to lead the NSW National Party or make a cameo appearance on the board of Rugby Australia.
That’s how zany they were getting. Cartwright concluded his Instagram post with a somewhat enigmatic statement: ‘I know people in my industry with vaccine injured children and the herd NEVER stuck around for them.’ What is this herd? Where was it going? Who are these abandoned children? Plenty of work for Peter V’landys to do here. Nobody wants to see the whole of rugby league thinking with one brain.
The only herd in sight is the herd of cats that V’landys and the league administration will be trying to control between now and the end of the year with their boyosecurity plan. You don’t envy them; they’ll be earning every cent of their reduced salaries.
The vaccination crisis, the minibike crisis, the TikTok crisis, the Melbourne Storm’s Albury-Wodongate … and this is just the beginning. No other code in the world is venturing into so vast an unknown frontier with so highly-strung a combination of tenacity, exuberance and madcap impatience. The boyosecurity plan is all about strict control, which we know is anathema to rugby league players, who, like Cartwright, are ‘pro-choice, pro-informed consent and pro-medical freedom’, pretty much, in other words, pro-themselves. As an instant self-made expert in the art of clairvoyance, I see tears before bedtime.
There is another contract the leaguies have had to sign. It says, ‘Are you prepared to be a laboratory guinea pig in an experiment running indeterminate, unprecedented risks with your health and others’, all in the service of getting some content onto the telly, for which you will be rewarded with government-subsidised remuneration, a paper cup of orange juice and a lollipop for your trip home?’
Everyone, including the anti-vaxxers, signed up for that one. Meanwhile, the search for a vaccine goes on.
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Malcolm Knox is a journalist, author and columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.