WILL CAIN (HOST): If the emperor has no clothes, the vaccination bullies and the social media tyrants have no spine.
In a world, in an industry like sports full of big human beings doing superhuman things, sports seems to be surrounded by some very small people. I bring you the story of Cole Beasley, a very small wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. Cole Beasley spent several years with the Dallas Cowboys, and he's a very effective, productive, successful slot receiver now for the Buffalo Bills.
Of the past several weeks and months, Cole Beasley on social media has drawn questions, asked questions, about the necessity and utility of a healthy human being in their 20s or 30s getting the vaccination for COVID-19. The NFL and the Players Association, the union for players in the NFL, have agreed on certain protocols. Protocols that say if a player is vaccinated in the 2021 season, he can essentially return to normal. But if you're not vaccinated, you'll have to follow certain protocols. Protocols like daily testing, like wearing a mask around team facilities at all times -- that is when you're allowed to use team facilities because unvaccinated players will not be able to use the cafeteria, the sauna, and other areas that the rest of the team can begin to enjoy. Unvaccinated players will have travel restrictions when the team goes on road games and an unvaccinated player will not be able to take place in social media or sponsorship endorsement opportunities. Cole Beasley is unhappy with this arrangement. He's unhappy with this agreement. He's unhappy with the Players Association. He's unhappy with the NFL. He went to social media and he posted the following to his audience. He said, I quote, “Look, I'm going to live my life like I want regardless. Everyone, hi, I'm Cole Beasley and I'm not vaccinated. I will be outside doing what I do. I will be out in public. If you're scared of me, then steer clear or get vaccinated point blank, period. I may die of COVID, but I'd rather die actually living. I have family members whose days are numbered, if they want to come and see me and stay at my house, then they are coming regardless of protocol. I don't play for the money anymore. My family's been taken care of. Fine me if you want. My way of living and my values are more important to me than a dollar. I love my teammates and enjoy playing ball because all the outside B.S. goes out the window in these moments. I just want to win the Super Bowl and enjoy these relationships that will be created along the way."
Beasley goes on to post. “I'm not going to take meds for a leg that isn't broken. I'd rather take my chances with COVID and build up my immunity that way. Eat better, drink water, exercise, and do what I think is necessary to be a healthy individual. That is"-- all caps -- “my choice based on my experience and what I think is best. I'll play for free this year to live life how I've lived it from day one. If I'm forced into retirement, so be it. I enjoyed the times I've had. I'll get to live freely with my wife, kids, and extended family forever. We'd get to enjoy the times that we missed from the sacrifices we've had to make just so I could play this wonderful game. So either way, it's a win-win. That's where I stand," concludes Beasley. “Thank you for everyone who's been supportive throughout this process. A lot of NFL players hold my position as well, but aren't in the right place in their careers to be so outspoken. I feel for you and I'm hoping I'm doing my part to represent you guys as well." Signed Cole Beasley.
Now, in response to that post, almost every member of sports media, every analyst, every commentator, and every reporter mocked Beasley for his decision and the rationale he laid out for declining the COVID-19 vaccination. And I for some reason, even to this moment, am stunned by the unanimity, I am stunned that an industry seemingly pulling from every geographic location of this country, from an industry that pulls from athlete and nonathlete alike, an industry that pulls from almost every ethnic background, could somehow produce a group of people who not only think in lockstep, but act according to their acceptable groupthink. What I mean is not only did almost every member of the sports media disagree with Cole Beasley's decision, but they acted out in almost the same manner with a sneering, mocking, jeering tone that Cole Beasley is a boob, he's an idiot, and worse than that, he's a danger to his fellow players. How is it that almost every member of this industry, coincidentally agrees on almost every issue of importance and is never, ever wrong? How is it that every member of the, for example, le Batard crew or SportsCenter anchors or ESPN NFL analysts or The Athletic or The Ringer know with absolute certainty not only what is best for them, but for you and every other person in this society? How is it that one industry is so blessed to have so many people who are so infallible and so enlightened that they can vomit up little pearls of wisdom, nugget it out onto their social media feeds for the rest of us to unquestioningly lap up while following to a T and celebrating, in fact, thanking them for their graciousness in allowing us to read their tweets. Now, listen, several of these people, many of these people are my friends whom I genuinely like and adore. My criticism today has no impact on whether or not I like or want to hang out with many of my former colleagues, for example, at ESPN. But if we ever run into each other again, and I'm lucky enough to buy any one of them a beer -- if I'm lucky enough to continue our relationship and I say that in all sincerity, I wouldn't hold back on the criticism I'm offering today when clinking those Coors Lights face to face.
My former industry, the sports media industrial complex, is beholden to groupthink. It is a herd mentality driven by the insecure need to belong. That need to belong is an underrated factor, playing a role in every one of our lives. It's not just NFL commentators that want to go along to get along. It's every single one of us. It's not fun to be the black sheep. It's not fun to be a maverick. It's not fun to be ostracized. It takes, quite honestly, real conviction. You know, what made me unique at ESPN wasn't that I declined to be a far-left radical liberal. What made me unique at ESPN was that I was willing to say it out loud. I recently was hanging out with a friend of mine who's involved in the quote-unquote, mainstream media industrial complex in the news division, not in the sports division, and he was complaining to me that his industry had become so far-left and he was expressing his desire to find someone who could help pull the conversation back towards the middle. But I was explaining to him that his challenge wasn't to go find a commentator, a host, or a journalist with center-right leanings, rather, his challenge was to find someone who wouldn't go along to get along; someone who could resist the social pressure on set, behind the scenes, and within the corporate bureaucracy to fit in, to echo the mooing sentiments of the herd.
There was a time not long ago that the external social pressure weighing on a sports commentator would have come from the audience. For example, a sports radio host in, say, Dallas, Texas, would have felt some external pressure, some social pressure to reflect the views of the audience, but that day is now long gone. Now, if you turn it on local Dallas sports radio, you hear opinions that are absolutely indistinguishable from every other sports commentator on Twitter and totally out of touch with the audience in Dallas. My friends and I all grew up in the DFW area listening to a sports radio station called The Ticket. We loved The Ticket. We echoed Ticket lingo. We felt like their personalities were our friends, but to listen to the Ticket today feels like scrolling through my Twitter timeline where once they were renegades, they were rebels, they were irreverent; now they're indistinguishable from a sports media critic. From Toronto, you can't take a freshwater fish and drop it into the ocean and expect it to survive, fish live in the waters that they swim, and sports no longer swims with the audience in their local markets. Sports media members swim quite honestly on Twitter, and as a result, their opinions have all converged into a single monolithic moo of the herd into a single monolithic groupthink. And it is wielded. It is pronounced, it is published in the most sneering and condescending tone possible.
And that unanimous tone of mockery is what met Cole Beasley. I read Cole Beasley's post as an exercise in independence. As an individual, risk-reward analysis as to whether or not he should receive the COVID-19 vaccination and everyone else in sports media seem to read it as idiocy, if you read the comments under Cold Beasley's post, both from blue checkmarks and regular Joes, if you read the tweets and the commentary, what you'll quickly learn is that there is no industry full of smarter people than those that have chosen to analyze a game for a living. I'm telling you, sports analysts are the smartest people in the world. Just ask them. Or better yet, they're going to tell you. They'll tell you exactly the right decisions for your life. You know what smart sounds like, by the way? You know how to smart, if you will. You know the shorthand; say stuff like this. Beasley dangerous anti-vaxxer; Cole Beasley, of course, doesn't believe in science. Was every analogy in Cole Beasley's post, as so many have already pointed out, perfect? Was the analogy of a broken leg needing treatment the same as he analogized to a vaccine protecting you from COVID-19? No. But neither were the analogies of the enlightened Twitter commentators who brought up vaccines like polio, which, by the way, underwent decades of trial and error, decades of experimentation, years of callbacks after people died from faulty polio vaccines before arriving safely on the shelves and safe for universal usage and consumption. Or the analogy of food preparation, hairnets, washing your hands or the best one yet, seatbelts. Because the government mandate to strap on a seatbelt is exactly the same as the employment requirement that everyone take an experimental use drug. The people that wield their quote-unquote intelligence as a weapon seem to have done exactly zero studies on the COVID risk for young, healthy adults, or, even better yet, the risk of hospitalization or death for world-class physically peak performance athletes. Our very online sports geniuses also seem to have no real grasp of the science as to what a vaccination actually does. There's no understanding that an unvaccinated person is of no risk to a vaccinated person. They also seem to fail to understand their own logical inconsistencies as they go about pointing out that a vaccinated person can still carry and transmit COVID-19, making them essentially the same as the dangers presented by an unvaccinated person.
But pay no mind to those logical inconsistencies, pay no mind to those bad analogies. Intelligence isn't relayed or communicated through words or ideas. You know this by now. It's communicated through tone and fitting in. Say what you say in as much condescension as possible, tweet what you tweet, dripping in sneering self-reverence and huddle in like-minded groups, and you too can be seen as smart. All you have to do when anyone questions the conclusions of the herd is yell conspiracy, disinformation, anti-vaxxer.
For example. The minute that I dared to step up for Cole Beasley's independent decision, I was met with, Oh yeah, Will, you won't get the vaccine. Oh yeah, Will, you won't do your societal duty. Oh yeah, Will, you're willing to risk other people's lives. Oh yeah, Will, you're an anti-vaxxer and not that I feel the need to answer the call of my critics and not that I feel the need to paint this as an independent thought. But let me lay this out as an illustration of a rational human being. Like many of us out there, like many of you, listening as to how you can avoid falling into the trap of the very online radical groupthink. I myself am vaccinated. I chose to take the COVID-19 vaccination. I chose the J&J shot. I thought about it. I went through my own risk-reward analysis and I decided to get the vaccine. That was a decision for me. But because I made that decision does not mean to me that it needs to be the decision for you. I know mind-blowing. Right. But I don't need my every decision in life to be validated by the lockstep parroting of everyone else around me. I'm pretty confident in my decision. I don't need you or anyone else to agree with me. And I certainly don't need to require you to make the same choice, and that in the end is what this is all about.
It's not pro-science versus anti-science. It's not pro-vaccine versus anti-vaccine. It's not pro-responsibility versus antisocial behavior. It's whether or not we all get to be little mini tyrants. Groupthink and conclusions are not the basis of science. In fact, groupthink and conclusions are the antithesis of science. The idea that there's one magical medicinal drug out there that is universally appropriate for every single person is not science. The idea that there's one medical magical drug that's right for every single human being on the planet, that's the antithesis of science. Every single person out there listening has different amounts of risk tolerance, every single person out there listening has a different health calculation. We're in different age cohorts. We have different BMI. We have different preexisting conditions. We have differences in our eating habits. And our physical shape, Cole Beasley went through this analysis thinking about his own age, physical shape, existence or nonexistence of health threats, and his own questions and hesitancy about the vaccine.
It does not make you an anti-vaxxer to notice that this drug is still in an experimental use phase, to notice that the big pharmaceutical companies do not exactly have a sterling track record of either honesty or efficacy. It's not to be an anti-vaxxer to notice that Big Pharma is, as we speak, engulfed in numerous counts of fraud litigation in regard to several of their drugs. It's not to be an anti-vaxxer to notice that Big Pharma has complete liability protection on the COVID-19 vaccine. It's not to be an anti-science anti-social anti-vaxxer to arrive at a personal decision that is different from you or me, someone who has chosen to take the coronavirus vaccine.
Cole Beasley isn't the only person to go through this risk-reward analysis. Many of you out there listening have gone through the same cost-benefit thought process, I'm going through the same risk-reward analysis when it comes to giving the vaccine to my children. Now, what differentiates you or me or Cole Beasley from the herd mentality of the sports commentariat? It isn't our devotion to science. It's our devotion to mocking people who dare to stray from the herd. When I pointed this out on social media, one of my former ESPN colleagues, his name doesn't need or deserve mention, of course, ridiculed me and said, we know what game you're playing, Will. Several of the guys on the show and I started talking about tweeting, about texting about that response. And one of my old buddies said, look, you're an easy target. I know what he meant by me being an easy target. I'm an outlier. I strayed from the herd. That former colleague of mine felt safe attacking me in a way he wouldn't someone who parrots the groupthink. But I wonder about that. I wonder about that safety.
You know, vaccine hesitancy remains higher in the African-American community in the United States and almost every single state, I believe, save for one. Vaccination rates for Black Americans trail the vaccination rates for Latino and white Americans. For what it's worth, several high-profile Black athletes like quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson have declined to answer whether or not they have received the COVID-19 vaccine. But you don't see the herd mooing loudly at Lamar Jackson to get back in line. No, he's not an easy target, I'm an easy target, Cole Beasley is an easy target. And the truth is, you're an easy target.
You see most of the sports commentariat, it will tell you that the difference between Lamar Jackson and Cole Beasley was the stupidity of Cole Beasley's rationale, but a group of people that seemed to conflate sneering and mockery, jeering and jokes with intelligence, a group of people that quite honestly have very rarely, if ever, had an independent, insightful, or interesting thought are not the people you turn to when it comes to the difference between stupid and smart. And increasingly, they're not the people you turn to to be entertained. When it comes to conversation and analysis over an entertainment product like sports.
Again, I still have friends. I consider them friends and most likely, probably always will consider them friends in that industry. And again, I would share these same criticisms with them out of respect and friendship directly to their face, because I would warn these friends. I would warn this industry that what defines you is no longer irreverence and fun, it never was your intelligence or insightfulness. No, what defines you is your willingness, your interest in fitting in and going along to getting along. It's not just marching with the herd, but enforcing the unanimous moos of the herd, enforcing it by going after the little people, going after the independent thinkers, going after the mavericks, going after not just the Cole Beasleys of sports, but sneering, mocking and going after your audience. Because everyone listening, everyone reading, everyone watching, all the little people, not all of them agree with your groupthink. And when you sneer and joke and mock their decisions as those of stupid bumpkins, of backwards Neanderthals as anti-vaxx antiscience contrarians, you reveal yourselves as the very, very small little people just hoping to be liked to belong to the herd. We'll be right back with more of The Will Cain Podcast.
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