Noisy sports weekend a tribute to the vaccine, the vaccinated

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The previous two days over a made-to-order Memorial Day holiday more than 54,000 people gathered in close quarters to commune with sports in Atlanta. The shared experience is back in vogue, in a big way. These many thousands cheered together, pulled together, waited in agonizingly long concession lines at State Farm Arena together and, yes, glory be, even won together.

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A quick message to those who made this return to the home-court/field advantage possible: Thank you.

Thank you to everyone who made the call to follow through with the COVID-19 vaccination. One by one the pin pricks have added up, each dose not only personally important but also of compounding social significance.

Those who stepped up and have gotten their shots should look around at the scenes of a country rediscovering the “us” in the U.S. – the raucous, sometimes unruly, sporting venue only one panel of the larger quilt – and be proud. You made that happen.

OK, overlook the jerk in New York who spit toward Trae Young. That wasn’t your fault.

The joy shared by the more than 16,000 fans at Sunday’s Hawks-Knicks playoff game at State Farm Arena and the nearly 38,000 at Truist Park for Braves-Nationals on Monday wouldn’t have been possible without your belief in the science of the vaccine. As shots go, yours has been as meaningful as any taken lately by the aforementioned Mr. Young.

If you don’t believe the vaccine and those who have accepted it are game-changers, then look beyond the happy, heaving stands at home to other places that are struggling in the absence of the shot.

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

A one-time Olympic city such as Atlanta need only glance at the next city on deck, Tokyo. With its vaccination rate the lowest among the G-7 countries (less than 8% at last report), Japan is involved in an intense debate over whether to go through with the rescheduled July 23 start-up of the postponed 2020 Games.

While the pace of vaccination in Japan is gaining speed, recent polls have continued to show the majority in the country fearful of staging the Games. The nation’s second largest newspaper has called for a cancellation. Concern over spread of the disease and its variants runs deeply on an island that has experienced recent spikes in cases and death.

If the Games do go on – and the economic pressures to hold them figure to be irresistible – the setting is likely to be sadly muted. The Olympics are meant to be this blended smoothie of nations, a bringing together of the world in the pursuit of non-armored competition. Otherwise, what’s the point?

As of now, foreign fans would be prohibited from traveling to Japan. It remains uncertain how many, if any, Japanese fans will be on site to urge on strangers playing such strange sports as field hockey and modern pentathlon. The traditional Opening Ceremony mosh pit of the irritatingly young and fit would seem to be out of the question.

Meanwhile, at the French Open tennis tournament, fans are being escorted out of the stadium in mid-match to comply with Paris’ 9 p.m. COVID curfew. Imagine them trying that at Madison Square Garden.

The big crowd and the noise that inflates every important sporting moment are elements we used to take for granted. No longer.

To be inside State Farm Arena during the twin Hawks playoff victories over the Knicks was like going out with an old rowdy college friend and proving to yourself that you can still hang. Nearly forgot how good that felt.

The Hawks clearly fed off body heat in those games. Throughout decisive second-quarter runs in both, the symbiosis between the players and the crowd was deafening. Even the blaring music – by artists that none over 30 can bear and that can bore through bone – was almost welcome. Almost.

For that, a round of gratitude to the vaccinated.

You overcame the uncertainty, looked past the selfishness, tuned out the misinformation and got the shot. You signed the social compact, agreeing upon what’s best for yourself and those around you. You have carried the load for those who can’t or won’t accept the vaccine. You have brought life back to American sports.