One of my late father’s favorite sayings was, “That guy just don’t believe sh*t stinks.” It was a colorful way of describing someone who stupidly refuses to accept an obvious fact or situation. Were he alive today, Dad would be applying his smelly admonishment to anyone who denies that January 6 was an insurrection or that voter suppression is real. But, in light of recent statistics, my father would also be ranting about people who deny the realities of COVID and refuse to get vaccinated, including a few selfish baseball players from N.C. State who just cost their teammates (and their school) a shot at the College World Series. And just why did that happen? Because those young men “don’t believe sh*t stinks,” that’s why. I imagine they thought COVID couldn’t touch them, that COVID was just an old person’s disease, and that there would be no consequence to refusing the vaccine. They thought wrong on all counts.
Up until last Friday, the Wolfpack had been on an impressive post-season run, beating number one Arkansas twice in the Super Regionals, then dispatching Stanford and Vanderbilt in the opening rounds of the CWS. The Pack would only need to beat Vandy once more to reach the series finals, but an hour before game time last Friday, NC State coach Elliott Avent learned that some of his players tested positive for COVID and were unable to play. Avent then fielded a makeshift line-up, which was no match for Vanderbilt. Nevertheless, State still had high hopes of reaching the finals. All they had to do is avoid double elimination and win on Saturday afternoon. But by that morning, the second round of bad news arrived, with officials telling Avent that a number of other Wolfpack players tested positive. Adhering to strict COVID protocols, the NCAA had no choice but to cancel the game and send the Pack home to Raleigh. So much for a World Series title.
Right after the first COVID shoe dropped on Friday, Coach Avent was asked by the press what had happened and why so many of his players had neglected to get vaccinated. Said Avent, “My job is to teach them baseball, but I don’t try to indoctrinate my kids with my values or my opinions…These are young men that can make their own decisions, and that’s what they did.” Up until that moment, I had been a fan of Elliott Avent, but no longer. His head-in-the-sand explanation was ignorant, irresponsible, and an abdication of his responsibility to his players, the University, and the boosters and taxpayers who support him. Former Wake Forest football coach Jim Grobe once told me that a college coach should first and foremost be an educator of young men. As such, a coach must be a leader who teaches his players about good choices and encourages them to make those choices. The moment that COVID vaccines were widely available, Avent should have announced that only vaccinated players would be allowed to participate in post-season tournaments. The stakes were too high to do otherwise, and I don’t just mean preserving the students’ baseball season but also preserving their health. And that brings me to the most important lesson to be learned from the Wolfpack saga. Despite various incentives being offered to those of us who get vaccinated, the demand for shots has slowed to a near stop over the past few months because a lot of folks “don’t believe sh*t stinks.” They think we’re out of the Pandemic woods. We’re not.
Right now, only nine States can claim that at least 60% of their adults have been vaccinated. The other 41 States are nowhere close to that. North Carolina ranks 28th in the nation with 44%, and the States with the least number of vaccinated people are now showing a surge in COVID cases. Then last week came the news that nearly 100% of all recent COVID deaths involve patients who had refused to get vaccinated. Yet despite this recent data and a virulent Delta strain of COVID spreading through the country, North Carolina lawmakers just announced that they were lifting the mask mandate for public schools, even though hardly any kids have been vaccinated.
The message is clear: if more people don’t get vaccinated soon, then the wearing of masks will be the least of our problems. We could very well see a return to overloaded emergency rooms and closed restaurants. And, to paraphrase my Dad, anyone who doesn’t believe this could happen has a serious problem with their sense of smell.