Community examines impact of public figures through pandemic

Novak+Djokovic+plays+at+the+2011+Western+%26+Southern+Open+in+Ohio.+Djokovic+has+chosen+to+be+unvaccinated+against+COVID-19%2C+resulting+in+public+backlash+after+he+tried+playing+in+the+2022+Australian+Open%2C+per+CBS+Sports.+Now%2C+students+and+faculty+reflect+on+the+effects+of+Djokovic+and+other+public+figures+breaking+COVID-19+regulations.+

Photo used with permission from Mirsasha/Flickr

Novak Djokovic plays at the 2011 Western & Southern Open in Ohio. Djokovic has chosen to be unvaccinated against COVID-19, resulting in public backlash after he tried playing in the 2022 Australian Open, per CBS Sports. Now, students and faculty reflect on the effects of Djokovic and other public figures breaking COVID-19 regulations.

Sophia Bateman, Staff Writer

In a pandemic-ridden world, protecting oneself from the spread of COVID-19 has proven to be essential to both individual and public health. Among those not following preventative measures, such as vaccinations and lockdowns, are several celebrities and politicians. 

For example, in December 2020, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson prohibited indoor gatherings as another attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19. However, in December 2021, allegations arose that he hosted and attended Christmas parties at 10 Downing Street in 2020, per The New York Times.

Tara Behbehani (’25) said she found it interesting that Johnson imposed specific COVID-19 rules and then broke them, all the while expecting everyone else to follow them. 

“He’s our leader, so if he leads a country where he enforced rules, he should be the most trustworthy person and abide by them in the first place and not expect others to abide by them if he doesn’t,” Behbehani said. “He’s the one who put those rules in the first place, so it seems even more wrong that he would be the one to break them.”

Furthermore, Ethan Zazo (’22) said Johnson and his staff breaking the rules he made has created distrust between the citizens and the government. 

“The fact that they haven’t kept to their own rules is really starting to cause a divide between us,” he said. “It detrimentally affects everyone because it detaches us from our government and leaders.”

Zazo said that even if someone holds power, they should be held accountable.  

“If anything, Boris Johnson should be held more accountable than a regular citizen because the whole point of him being elected as our PM is that he leads this country,” he said. “He is the man to take us through the tough times and make us prosper, and I think that’s exactly what he’s failed to do.”

According to a survey conducted by The Standard Feb. 15 with 136 responses, 77.2% of students and faculty said their opinion of a celebrity or politician changed or strengthened after they broke COVID-19 regulations. 

Zazo said he can no longer be sure what politicians mean by what they say. 

“We can’t believe their words and ideologies, and so that makes it a lot tougher to have a system that works and operates for everyone,” he said. 

Makram Salaam (’23) said he finds it frustrating when politicians impose a protocol only to break it themselves. 

Another public figure who has recently caused controversy surrounding COVID-19 regulations is tennis player Novak Djokovic. As reported by CBS Sports, Djokovic had his Australian visa canceled Jan. 14 and was deported from Australia Jan. 16, one day before he was set to play in the Australian Open. 

Djokovic, who is unvaccinated against COVID-19, failed to obtain a valid medical exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination requirements put in place by the Australian Open committee. He also provided inaccurate information on his travel declaration form. 

Zazo said the vaccination process is for the greater good, and celebrities who choose to not receive it must understand the implications of their decision.

“Those who aren’t going to keep to those rules just have to understand that there will be limitations as to what they can do and where they can go,” he said. 

Additionally, Social Studies Teacher Christopher Wolf said society tends to place celebrities and politicians on a pedestal. He said this can be problematic and results in people prioritizing celebrities’ opinions over their own.

“We often hand over judgment to these people,” Wolf said. “Just because they’re celebrities doesn’t mean they’re any more reasonable or any more thoughtful or have a deeper understanding than anyone else, and we need to keep that in mind.” 

Zazo said he doesn’t think celebrities, like Djokovic, breaking COVID-19 rules has too bad of an effect because most of the time, they are not trying to hide it. However, he said politicians breaking COVID-19 rules negatively affects society because “everyone does look up to them for answers as well as inspiration.”

Behbehani said celebrities need to be aware of their ability to influence others when infringing on COVID-19 restrictions.

“With the role of a celebrity comes the responsibility of inspiring and influencing a lot of people,” she said. “When you hold power like that, you need to be able to use it responsibly.”

However, considering celebrities’ accountability, Behbehani said society shouldn’t remove the credibility of a celebrity or politician solely because of one mistake they have made. 

Similarly, Wolf said public figures do not necessarily need to be held any more responsible than average citizens. 

“I don’t know that they need to be additionally accountable, but they need to be accountable,” he said. 

According to the survey with 136 responses, 86.8% of students and faculty feel it is important that individuals in the public eye are held accountable for acting irresponsibly during the pandemic, such as by spreading vaccine misinformation and breaking lockdown rules. 

Moreover, 81.6% of students and faculty believe celebrities and politicians must act as role models during the pandemic. 

Wolf said assuming celebrities and politicians should be role models implies that they have a greater obligation. Instead, he argues, we should put forth the question of who we consider a celebrity. 

“‘Can you just pick anyone and make them a celebrity?’” Wolf said. “Or should we really think carefully about who we want as these paragons of our culture and our society?”

Furthermore, Zazo said celebrities and politicians should be setting an example for society during the pandemic. 

Similarly, Salaam said politicians especially should step up and act as role models since they sit in leadership positions for a reason.

“Politicians have been elected to do so, so they should be setting an example for people,” he said.