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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: It’s a failure of simple courtesy, not crackpot beliefs, that cost Stockton his tickets

Jan. 25, 2022 Updated Tue., Jan. 25, 2022 at 4:36 p.m.

Gonzaga's John Stockton speaks to the media during a news conference, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. Stockton was one of eight people inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Sunday.   (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)
Gonzaga's John Stockton speaks to the media during a news conference, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. Stockton was one of eight people inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Sunday.  (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

John Stockton didn’t lose his seats at the McCarthey Athletic Center because he believes a lot of utter balderdash about COVID-19 and vaccines.

He does, as he has now made obvious for the world to see, believe a lot of utter balderdash about COVID-19 and vaccines. A whole lot.

To pick just two of the most embarrassing things: He peddled, in an interview published Sunday in The Spokesman-Review, the unbelievable and oft-debunked notion that lots and lots of professional athletes worldwide are dropping dead in the middle of games due to vaccinations, as well as the wildly incorrect claim that for those younger than age 70, “we’re at literally no risk of dying … if we eat well, live well, drink water, take care of our bodies in a holistic fashion.”

These are both groundless assertions that come from the far, far outer edges of pandemic insanity – farther out, perhaps, than we might have guessed even knowing that Stockton was in the business of retailing anti-vaxxer conspiracies. Understandably, the wave of public backlash to Stockton’s long, error-filled Q-and-A with the S-R, was focused on some of his most ignorant statements.

But it is not those statements that cost him his tickets.

It was two things, and two things only: His selfishness over a matter of common courtesy and Gonzaga’s admirable willingness to take a stand.

Obviously, Stockton doesn’t believe in masking, because that would require knowing and believing in what the ever-expanding body of research demonstrates – masking works to limit viral spread. It helps us do things like enjoy basketball games and keep the schools open. There are large-scale, randomized trials that show this, as well as scores of observational studies; the University of Michigan recently reported that it compared Michigan school districts and found there was 62% less viral transmission in schools that had mask mandates compared to those that did not.

And yet, even that is not the crux of this issue. Gonzaga does not require you to accept the scientific evidence about masks or vaccines or who dies of COVID-19. It does not require you to believe the truth.

It merely requires you to be a considerate guest. It merely requires you to do what you agree to do when you buy a ticket: follow the house rules.

Is that too much to ask? It was for Stockton, obviously.

Wearing a mask is a pain in the neck. Wearing a mask, months and months into this pandemic, has become wearisome. No one likes it, but it’s also just not a very big deal. Only those who have become blinded by conspiratorial lies and negative partisanship are willing to turn mask-wearing into their own personal Waterloos.

The entire matter can be separated completely from what Stockton believes. If you’re invited into a place – a home, a store, a classroom, a gym – and your host asks you to follow certain rules, you should not simply ignore that request and assume you’re the one guy who doesn’t have to follow them.

Even if you’re a big shot.

The truth is, out of anyone watching any GU game, Stockton was most likely to get away with something based only on who he is, and he took advantage of that, refusing the university’s repeated entreaties to wear a mask. And, while he’s surely not the only mask refusenik in the gym, he’s the one likeliest to be shown bare-faced on national TV every single time he’s there.

That put GU in an impossible position, based on the state mask mandate and university rules. People in and around Zag circles have been talking about his bare face for weeks. Those who follow the rules could fairly wonder why the university wasn’t enforcing them with Stockton, and those who wanted to flout the rules could look to GU’s most famous alum as an example.

Here’s how Stockton put it in the interview: “Basically, it came down to they were asking me to wear a mask to the games, and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit and therefore they received complaints and felt like from whatever the higher-ups – those weren’t discussed but from whatever it was higher up – they were going to have to either ask me to wear a mask or they were going to suspend my tickets.”

Props to GU, which had already sent a clear signal about mask compliance by shutting down concessions, for doing the right thing.

Stockton was a spectacular basketball player. He exhibited a form of genius on the court, which is why it’s such a disappointment that his critical thinking skills off-court are so poor.

At the end of the day, though, his absence at McCarthey represents not what he thinks or says or believes, but how he chose to act.

The most unselfish player in NBA history couldn’t be bothered to show a little common courtesy.

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