Hero worship, stars’ COVID-19 tests, Tommy John surgery and our role in all of it

Outraged? Well, we elevated these people with our adoring gazes. They expect things. We expect things for them.

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Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery during the coronavirus pandemic.

Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery during the coronavirus pandemic.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When famous athletes, entertainers and moguls ponder heaven, some surely see a separate, velvet-roped area meant just for them. That would be a logical extension of how they see life and how they expect to be treated wherever they go. If they’re going to be touched, it’s going to be by an angel, not by the likes of you and me.

But the better question is how we think those celebrities should be treated inside the pearly gates. Going by society’s worship of them, the answer, sadly, is probably the same. Perhaps Michael Jordan will deign to sign a few autographs up there, too.

Although I’m angered by star athletes’ elective surgeries during the coronavirus outbreak and upset that famous people have access to COVID-19 tests when regular people don’t, we produced this, didn’t we? We’ve elevated these people with our adoring gazes. They expect things. We expect things for them.

Two star pitchers, the Red Sox’ Chris Sale and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, had Tommy John surgery in the past week. This after we’ve been bombarded with information about the importance of sheltering in place and not putting others at risk. No one involved, concerned about safety or fairness, called off the surgeries. No one involved thought the surgical equipment or the surgeons could have been used elsewhere in the fight against the virus. At a minimum, no one said, “This is going to look really, really bad, so let’s not.’’

They didn’t because they believe that star athletes are entitled to special treatment. If they want to rationalize it by saying Sale and Syndergaard are serving the masses with timely surgeries and speedier returns to the field, good luck. If the athletes reached the conclusion it was their civic duty to have a surgery that had nothing to do with the current crisis, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Los Angeles County, where Sale’s elbow surgery took place, already had issued a recommendation against elective procedures. That didn’t stop the people who were in on Sale’s operation from going through with it.

“I know that I’m going to get criticized for taking care of these kinds of guys, but it’s essential to their livelihoods,”Dr. Neal ElAttrache, Sale’s surgeon,told the San Francisco Chronicle. “If you have somebody’s career at stake and they lose two seasons instead of one, I would say that is not a nonessential or unimportant elective procedure.”

Sale’s career was not at stake, nor was his ability to scratch out a living. He signed a five-year, $145 million contract a year ago.

(Random Thought 1: Remember when Sale, then with the White Sox, used scissors to cut up the team’s throwback jerseys because he thought they were uncomfortable? Was that elective or non-elective surgery?)

Syndergaard got around Florida’s ban on elective surgeries during the coronavirus outbreak when his surgeon declared the Tommy John procedure last Thursday essential. Yeah, essential to Syndergaard, the Mets and Mets fans.

One constant during the pandemic has been celebrities’ access to COVID-19 testing when regular people with symptoms haven’t been able to dry cough their way to a test. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a story Wednesday about a poor guy who had serious symptoms for 15 days and still couldn’t get tested for the virus. At one point, he had to console a crying doctor overwhelmed by the situation at a hospital.

Yet every day, we hear of entire teams being tested after one of their athletes contracts the coronavirus.

After New York Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted the Nets for having all their players tested, the team said it had paid for private testing at no cost to taxpayers. But access is the point here. Who has it? Good question. If you have a vertical leap over 36 inches and a big bank account, you do.

At some level, we expect stars to have an inside track that’s off limits to mere mortals. Hero worship helped build that inside track. How many times have we seen athletes return to ovations at stadiums after domestic-assault suspensions? There’s something seriously twisted about that.

Kim Kardashian didn’t create Kim Kardashian. We did. And if she didn’t exist, we’d create somebody else.

(Random Thought 2: Are there celebrities who actually want to get the virus? I know: a bizarre thought. But if enough stars get headlines for dealing with COVID-19, somebody with an agent, a large social-media following and no symptoms is going to see it as a missed opportunity.)

I’ve told this story before, but it fits so perfectly here, it’s worth repeating. During the late 1980s, a man dressed as Pope John Paul II, flowing robes and all, showed up in the crowd of fans at the Broncos’ training camp. When the players came out on the field for practice, many of them made a beeline for His Would-Be Holiness. Why? They thought he was the real deal, and they thought of course the pope would show up to meet them. He was famous, and they were famous. Let’s be famous together!

That’s how some of these people think. You know what it’s called? Heaven — for them and maybe for some of us.

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