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John Stockton won’t return to Gonzaga games for foreseeable future, citing his objection to school’s vaccine mandate

Jan. 18, 2023 Updated Wed., Jan. 18, 2023 at 9:27 p.m.

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Laura Stockton’s father, John, listens as she publicly thanks him during a game on March 2, 2019, at McCarthey Athletic Center.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Laura Stockton’s father, John, listens as she publicly thanks him during a game on March 2, 2019, at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Former Gonzaga and Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton doesn’t plan to return to his alma mater for home basketball games anytime soon, citing his objection to the university’s ongoing student vaccine mandate.

Stockton, a basketball Hall of Famer and one of two former Gonzaga basketball players to have their jersey number retired by the school, had his tickets suspended last season for failing to comply with a face mask requirement that applied to fans at home athletic events.

The university has repealed its mask mandate, but Stockton told The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday he’s elected not to return to the McCarthey Athletic Center and challenged Gonzaga to reconsider its vaccination policy.

“They were available to me,” Stockton said of his season tickets. “Around that time, I’d seen the newsletter the school had put out that this is our current policy relative to vaccines.”

Imploring university leaders to reverse course, Stockton said, “It’s time to make this change.”

According to Gonzaga’s website, undergraduates are required to “submit proof of vaccination or submit an approved religious or medical exemption” in order to attend the university.

COVID-19 has led to the deaths of 1.1 million Americans – including more than 1,500 people in Spokane County.

Stockton was one of 10 guest panelists invited to speak on the latest episode of the “Fearless with Jason Whitlock” YouTube show. The three-hour program titled “The ‘COVID Cartel’ & the Price for Freedom” also featured former Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich, who was terminated in October 2021 for failing to comply with a vaccine mandate for state employees.

Asked whether he’d consider returning to Gonzaga games in the future with the vaccine mandate still in place, Stockton responded “I don’t know” during an interview at his Spokane-based basketball facility, The Warehouse.

“Again, it’s a pretty small deal whether I attend the game or not for probably both sides,” he said.

“I feel like I do owe it. You never say never, you never paint yourself into that corner, but for me it’s a big issue of how you treat your students. It’s maybe the most important issue.”

Stockton told Whitlock during Tuesday’s show, “I chose not to resume my tickets as long as they hold that policy in place.”

Rolovich has returned to Northern California since he was fired by WSU seven games into his second season as the Cougars’ coach. The coach’s application for a religious exemption was not granted by the university and Rolovich, along with four unvaccinated assistant coaches, was terminated on Oct. 18, 2021.

In November, the 43-year-old football coach filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against WSU, and has since spoken publicly multiple times about the events that led to his dismissal.

“There’s a thousand stories from there of just … hypocrisy,” Rolovich said. “We talk about health and safety of players. That’s just a nice term. The mission statement of the school or the athletic department. Nobody lives by that in this situation. It was gross.”

Rolovich has recently worked as a volunteer assistant for the varsity football team at his high school, San Marin High (Novato, California), and suggested he’s heard from other college coaches interested in employing him. Those opportunities haven’t materialized, mainly due to push back from university administration, he said.

“Basically, I had colleges ask me, ‘Hey, you want to clinic us on offense and talk in conference,’ ” Rolovich told Whitlock. “I’m like, ‘Yeah I’ll come, I’m not doing anything. I’ve got nothing to do.’ Then they called back and said ‘Hey, administration, they don’t want you coming around.’ People saying, ‘I want to hire you as OC.’ Gets to administration, ‘You aren’t hiring him.’ It’s just a strange time.”

Three of the four assistant coaches who were fired by the university have landed other college jobs.

Quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Craig Stutzmann accepted the same position at Utah Tech and recently was hired to coach wide receivers at Texas State. Offensive line coach Mark Weber joined Idaho State’s program in the same capacity, and defensive tackles coach Ricky Logo has worked at Louisiana-Monroe and UNLV as a defensive line coach.

Rolovich said he was put off by behavior from coaching colleagues, telling Whitlock “I was a little disappointed with some people in the industry, coaches, because it’s a small circle. Not a lot of support, not a lot of standing up for that freedom of mind.”

The coach also alleged WSU football players came to his office distressed because of the university’s masking policy.

“The poor kids, they come into my office crying,” Rolovich said. “’I don’t want to wear a mask and now they’re putting a mask back on me.’”

During his appearance on Whitlock’s program, Stockton said he felt it was “my duty” to stand up for college students at his alma mater.

“These kids don’t necessarily know better, for one,” he said. “They’re not doing the research, they don’t have the time I do to research things or read my own, ask questions. They don’t have time, maybe they don’t even have the concern.”

Although older people with underlying medical conditions are more likely to be hospitalized or suffer from severe illness, those aged 18-29 are still at risk for contracting COVID-19.

Stockton also claimed “the CDC’s announcing negative efficacy (from vaccines),” and told Whitlock, “you have more chance of getting COVID if you’ve received the shots than if you didn’t.”

Contrary to Stockton’s claim about vaccine efficacy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends vaccines and booster shots for those eligible, and studies continue to show they remain effective at preventing death and serious illness.

Vaccines have not led to higher COVID-19 infection rates.

Stockton, the NBA’s all-time assists leaser, indicated The Warehouse is still available to current and former Gonzaga players who frequent the gym for training sessions and pickup games, usually during the college and NBA offseason. The Spokane native said he continues to evaluate his status as a donor to Gonzaga’s athletic department.

“I guess that will be something we’ll decide as time goes on,” Stockton said. “It’s probably part of an ongoing discussion. Hopefully an ongoing discussion.”

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