Religion, politics, ping-pong and the pandemic
I have two great passions: politics and table tennis. Only I prefer the correct nomenclature: Political Science and Table Tennis. I can talk for hours on either subject. But when I talk politics with my table tennis friends, I have to be careful. If they have very different political leanings, i.e. they like Trump, anything they say is likely to ruin the friendship.
On the other hand, if I talk about table tennis to political friends who don’t play table tennis, their eyes are often bored within two minutes.
Originally this letter was intended for members of the Asheville Table Tennis Club. However, club officials deemed it too political and religiously controversial to publish. So, I thought I would post here in Kos, although only a few other readers are likely to be equally into table tennis. Maybe the rest can relate to my lamentation—without their eyes shining with boredom.
Open letter to all table tennis enthusiasts
In college, I was about to face a new opponent who openly prayed to Jesus to defeat me before my match. He lost. Either Jesus wasn’t listening or God isn’t taking sides in table tennis.
A loving and merciful God does not take sides in table tennis, no matter how earnestly we pray to win. This is true in all sports. God is not a New Orleans Saints fan (or even a Notre Dame fan) and even if he was, I doubt he would deliberately swing the game for your team to win. Neither is God a Republican or a Democrat. And although they say there are no atheists in foxholes, it seems unlikely that an all-powerful deity would favor one army over another, or one country over another.
Yet the idea of an all-loving God who does not take sides does not fit the Old Testament. Didn’t God prefer the Israelites to the Egyptians? Didn’t God send ten plagues against the Egyptians so that the Israelites could become free?
According to Exodus, it was not until the tenth plague, a deadly disease, that the Pharaoh finally relented and let the Israelites go. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.” So, a poor Egyptian farmer, who had no say in the pharaoh’s decisions, had to sacrifice his firstborn?
And how is it that the Israelites did not die? According to Exodus, they painted the outside of their gates with lamb’s blood so that the death angel would pass over their house and spare them. Of course, the Jews did not Homework paint their doors with blood just because Moses told them it was God’s will. They could assert their agency and refuse—but then they would watch their firstborn die.
I wasn’t there then, and history may have changed in a few thousand years. I like to think that Moses said everyone, Jews and Egyptians, to avoid the angel of death by painting lamb’s blood on their door. Only, it is above all “the chosen people” who chose to follow the diktat and who were spared. Those who didn’t died.
Today we are beset by a modern scourge called Covid. I don’t believe it’s a plague sent by God. But I believe that people with certain beliefs are much more likely to die than those with different beliefs. People who believe in science and medical experts and who get vaccinated will live. Those who don’t believe they need to be vaccinated are much more likely to become seriously ill and die.
Yet every argument I have made for getting vaccinated to those who are “vaccine hesitant,” including my own family members, has fallen on death ears. Even the argument that, by not getting vaccinated, they are endangering the lives of others, is not accepted.
So, I propose a whole new argument for vaccination: If you don’t get vaccinated, you can’t play table tennis.
Those who refuse to be vaccinated, for whatever reason, endanger the health of other players who are vaccinated. Indeed, these anti-vaxxers harm the sport of table tennis.
The Montford Center in Asheville was one of the first table tennis facilities to close due to Covid, and one of the last to reopen. At no other facility that I know of are players required to wear masks while playing. The masks are hot, sweaty, uncomfortable, interfere with breathing and fog up the glasses. No one would need to wear a mask if everyone was vaccinated.
Now that the Omicron variation is spreading rapidly, I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before Asheville decides to indefinitely close the Montford Center putting an end to table tennis in Asheville. And why? Because it’s easier to shut everything down than to make sure everyone is vaccinated. It is not fair.
Meanwhile, I know several players in Greenville who no longer play at the county recreation center because they know other players there are not vaccinated. A good player, a doctor, told me that he would end up arguing in vain with his unvaccinated table tennis friends. He figured it was best not to play, rather than risk losing friendships because of this problem.
Unvaccinated players, who pose a much greater risk to other players, keep vaccinated players away from the game. That’s just not fair.
Therefore, I have made it my personal policy to refuse to play anyone I know is not vaccinated. It was a tough decision to follow, even when the anti-vaxxer was either someone I could easily beat or someone I had little chance of beating. It was even more difficult when I discovered that my rule prevented me from playing with a player as good as me, whom I consider a close friend of long standing.
You could say, since I’m now resolved not to play with unvaccinated players, that’s my new year’s resolution. Like many New Year’s resolutions, making them is much easier than keeping them. When I drove from Greenville to play in Charlotte on Thursday night, I was unfairly placed in group three. I knew that I belonged to group 2, and sometimes even in group 1, where I won a few matches. The last time I played in group 3, I won all my matches except one. The reason I didn’t make progress is that I had to leave at 10:15 p.m. because that was the time my ride, which ended at 9:30 p.m., was supposed to leave. (It took us over three hours to get back.) I still had two games to go, one that I could easily win and one that would be a challenge. Yet John the player who barely beat me once was the most accommodating and accepted instead of my forfeit we just shouldn’t count the game because he knew I was leaving only because I had to, and not because I was afraid of losing. (I has been afraid of losing, but that was not the reason I had to leave.)
Meanwhile, players I could easily beat had moved into Group 1, including the guy who was leading the league. Jim, a Chinese player who should have been in Group 1 but ended up in Group 2, told me that all I had to do was win all my games in Group 3, and the next time I’ll be in group 2. When I told him that I often didn’t have time to finish his matches, he offered a simple solution: move to Charlotte.
Too much abuse to insult, two of the other five players in group 3 were not vaccinated.
A few weeks earlier I had spoken to one of these players who had told me that there was no reason to get vaccinated. I told him that I had studied this matter extensively and written about it, and that he was misinformed. When I told him on Thursday that I wouldn’t play with him because he wouldn’t get vaccinated, he said we’d be twelve feet apart while playing. That would seem like a valid argument; except I couldn’t avoid him being within two feet of me when we weren’t playing.
The way I see it, I’m a damn good player and it’s your loss if you don’t play with me, not mine.—even if I have to forfeit a match and see my ranking drop. I do not care. I will not come back. If you cheat to win, you have already lost. As far as I’m concerned, players who refuse to get vaccinated are cheating. They may not be cheating in the traditional sense, but they are putting themselves, anyone around them, and the great sport of table tennis at risk.
So it’s not a question of playing with players I like and avoiding those I don’t like. It’s not personal, but practical. I don’t want to play with someone who won’t get vaccinated.
I have spoken to people who have insisted that they have the right to refuse to be vaccinated. May be. Corn if you refuse to be vaccinated, you must lose your right to play table tennis.