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Saturday, October 16, 2021
Camp Randall

Column: UW-Madison must require vaccines for Badger sporting events

Let me start with something objectively, categorically true: every single FDA-approved vaccine is safe and effective. They won’t make you infertile, and Bill Gates is not microchipping you (you’re not important enough, trust me). If we can’t agree on that, then you are the problem, full stop. 

I’m not here to convince you to get the vaccine. That’s not my job. What I am here to do is to explain to those of us who trust science how UW-Madison can get more people vaccinated while awarding those of us who took the opportunity when we could.

It’s no secret that vaccine mandates are controversial. Doubters cry about “personal choice” and threaten to leave whatever institution they are a part of. Just look at the NFL—where they don’t even have a full vaccine mandate—but have said that teams who cannot play due to COVID cases within their unvaccinated population will face hefty fines and a forfeit. Players have lashed out, refused to acknowledge questions about vaccinations, invoked HIPAA where it doesn’t apply and some have even left their organizations in protest.

But the fact of the matter is that vaccine mandates keep people safe. They keep those who can spread the deadly variants of this virus away from the vulnerable, and even if it makes them angry, who cares? 

In the case of the NFL, teams have preached the 'next man up' mentality for decades. It’ll be the same this year. If a player doesn’t want to get vaccinated and a team doesn’t want to forfeit games, they can just find someone else to fill that gap. I promise you, there are dozens of slot receivers that can do what Cole Beasley does.

For UW-Madison, the circumstances are a little more complicated. It’s not a private company like the NFL, which makes vaccine mandates more difficult, but not impossible. A few states have made vaccine mandates for public university students, including Wisconsin’s Big Ten counterparts of Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State. Indiana’s mandate was recently upheld in federal court.

The ruling in the Indiana case should make UW officials double-take. That’s right, a public university in a red state managed to implement a vaccine mandate. If that doesn’t give Becky Blank and company the fortitude to require vaccines, then nothing will.

Of course, Wisconsin and Indiana are categorically different places. I won’t pretend to know a lot about Indiana’s state legislature, but I know for certain that Wisconsin’s is entirely incompetent. We’ve all seen them fail to act on COVID for months on end while passing useless laws trying to ban critical race theory and forcing state arenas to play the national anthem before sporting events. This is, after all, the same legislature refused to acknowledge Black History Month on a day they voted to honor Rush Limbaugh; their priorities lie in pleasing a rabid Republican base whose only interests are whatever culture war they think is killing America on that given week. Robin Vos and his little cronies will no doubt throw a hissy fit over any sort of vaccine requirements at the UW, so it’s really up to the UW Board of Directors and whether they want to deal with that legal battle.

Maybe they won’t want to take on that massive legal fight, and if not, then that's fine. It’s not the safe choice, but there is one other option: ban the unvaccinated from sporting events.

If I may be candid for a second: I miss going to Badger sports so damn much. Watching Graham Mertz dismantle Illinois in an empty Camp Randall from my friend’s apartment was fun, but imagine being there under the lights. Seeing Brad Davison light up UNC in the NCAA, and effectively end Roy Williams’ career, would have been so much better in person with a full legion of Badger fans who would’ve made the trip to Indiana. Watching Cole Caufield and Daryl Watts skate around the entire Big Ten/WCHA en route to NCAA Tournaments would’ve been magical (and this would've been especially true for the National Champion women’s hockey team). 

I know I am not alone in this. Everyone at this school missed an entire year of going to Badger games. No tailgates, no “eat shit, fuck you” chants, no Jump Around, no “sieve” chants at opposing goalies. It was all gone. And now, if we don’t take action immediately, it’ll be gone again. 

For people my age, going into our senior year, it’s the last chance we’ll have to go to Badger games as a student. And I’ll be damned if we let a bunch of people who “did their own research” by scrolling through Reddit at 2 a.m. in a dank basement ruin that. 

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UW’s administration can keep that from happening with a simple rule: no vaccine, no entry to Camp or Kohl. UW already has the Badger Badge and “Safer Badgers” system where students can register their vaccination status, so it likely wouldn’t even be that much of an administrative hurdle to implement this. Just show your proof of vaccination on the app before you enter the stadium, and you’ll be good to go.

On top of this being necessary for student safety, it could also increase vaccination rates among those hesitant to get the shot. Of course, there are those hopeless cases who won’t get it under any circumstances, but for those who simply aren’t sure and want to wait and see what happens, entry to Camp Randall or the Kohl Center could be the nudge they need to get immunized. The 18-39 age group is the least vaccinated in the country, so any new incentive to get the shot is worthwhile. 

With the Delta Variant surging and masks once again becoming commonplace across the country due to the unvaccinated, the University of Wisconsin cannot stand by and twiddle their thumbs while cases get worse. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all help slow the spread of COVID, even if the Delta Variant complicates things. And while they may not want to face the legal battle of a mass mandate for all aspects of the university, I hope they will at least compromise and ensure a safe environment for Badger sports. Because, just like with the NFL, there will almost certainly be enough vaccinated people who desperately want to return to Camp Randall.

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