Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo
Photo: AP

If you aren’t in or around the Chicago area, you might not know about the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. A gem of a building located close to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, Lurie has been the gold standard for treating children with everything from “boo-boos to blood disorders,” as their website boasts.

Also per their website, Lurie has routinely ranked among the best pediatric hospitals in the nation. I personally have friends whose children have been treated and even passed on there, and they have nothing but wonderful things to say about the people, the doctors, and the facility.

If you follow the Chicago Cubs, you’re likely aware that first baseman Anthony Rizzo is a cancer survivor and a frequent visitor to Lurie, where the Cubs often post pics of him visiting sick children. Through his Rizzo Family Foundation, Rizzo has also donated millions to Lurie. He even raised funds to help healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID pandemic.

All of this is generous and admirable. Full stop.

But when Rizzo announced over the weekend that he’s chosen not to get the COVID vaccine, my first thought was incredulity that someone so invested in health care could eschew science and recommendations from world renown doctors and epidemiologists in favor of some stupid rumor about vaccines not being safe. My second thought was how remaining unvaccinated would affect him continuing to visit sick and possibly immunocompromised children at Lurie and other hospitals.

Deadspin reached out to Lurie Children’s Hospital and asked if Anthony Rizzo would be allowed to continue visiting children at Lurie’s without being vaccinated himself. Julianne Bardele, Lurie’s Associate Director of Public Affairs and communications, responded with a full statement, after saying that all visits have been virtual.

“Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has had a nine year relationship with the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Their work to support our patient-families during their cancer journey and Lurie Children’s staff is invaluable and so very appreciated. Additionally, the Rizzo Family Foundation has been a great support to our staff throughout the pandemic. Vaccination is a personal choice and it is not our place to comment on why or whether someone chooses to not take the COVID-19 vaccine. As a healthcare institution, we encourage everyone to take advantage of the incredible safe and efficacious vaccines on the market. The safety of our patients, their families and our staff is our top priority.”

A peek at the Rizzo Family Foundation’s page indeed revealed a tweet from April 6, showing hospitalized children holding up an iPad with Anthony Rizzo on the other end of a Zoom call.

But other images showed children from different organizations outside, enjoying things like drive-in movies and Santa’s Village. One pic is of Rizzo with an unmasked Jake Arrieta and Joc Pederson at the drive-in movie night in May.

Yes, these events are outdoors, and the children we’ve seen appear to all be wearing masks. But Rizzo’s anti-vaxx stance brings up a whole host of issues that, were I the parent of an ill child, I’d have concerns about. After all, Rizzo is a pro athlete sharing a clubhouse with more than a few anti-vaxxers, all of whom travel around the country and visit different locations on a regular basis. Just today, Johns Hopkins University reported that eight (almost all very red) states are seeing an uptick in COVID cases. Not surprisingly, seven of those eight states have lower-than-average vaccination rates.

And nobody wants to drag Anthony Rizzo, a man who has given much to his city, nor Lurie, one of the premier children’s hospitals in the Midwest. But that facility calling vaccines a “personal choice” feels like a big YIKES. I wonder how the Lurie doctors on the front lines of COVID feel about that. Imagine the impact if both Rizzo and Lurie advocated strongly for vaccines.

The issue is much bigger than Rizzo (and Jason Heyward, and Eric Sogard). It’s that in America today, we’ve elevated “personal choice” over the common good. I can make the “personal choice” to do a lot of things. I could personally choose to drink and drive. I could personally choose to go out in public when I’m sick and cough all over people. I could personally choose to believe a Facebook group over doctors and decide against vaccinating my children, contributing to outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, as we’ve had in this country the last few years. Making the choice not to be vaccinated doesn’t affect only you or your family. It affects everyone around you, and especially those who legitimately have a medical reason for not getting vaccinated. As George Costanza would say, “We’re living in a society here!”

The COVID crisis has called for Americans to come together to fight in a way we haven’t been asked to since World War II (and don’t say 9/11 — no one asked anyone to give up anything after 9/11). All we’ve been asked to do is stay home, wear masks when we go out, and get vaccinated. Such small things! And yet, it’s been too much for a significant portion of the population, who run around abusing store employees and screaming about “freedom.” We can’t even get a hospital to say “get your damn vaccine” to a high-profile donor.

As my colleague Sam Fels wrote this morning, “(T)here is no debate about the vaccine. You either take it, or you’re wrong, with very few exceptions. There is no “need more information,” … There is no “what’s best for my family.” These are all wrong.”

When it comes to public health, you know who knows what’s best for your family? Doctors and public health officials. Period.

Now go get your vaccine.