DeSantis makes a case to let unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic play in Miami

By: - March 8, 2023 5:11 pm

Djokovic kissing Wimbledon trophy after winning the 2019 Wimbledon Championships. Author, Peter Menzel. Wikimedia Commons.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is unable to participate in the Miami Open tournament that begins later this month because he remains unvaccinated – a requirement that Gov. Ron DeSantis thinks is absurd.

“It is wrong to discriminate against somebody based on the choice they’ve made regarding this,” the Republican governor said at the end of a press conference Wednesday in Hillsborough County.

“It was wrong when the shots first came out, and everybody came out and said that they were going to work and end COVID. It was wrong then,” said DeSantis, who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine in 2021.

DeSantis has reached out personally to President Joe Biden this week to ask that the president grant the world’s number one men’s tennis player an exemption so he can enter the U.S.

Currently, the U.S. government requires that all non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants show proof of being fully vaccinated with the primary series of an “accepted COVID-19 vaccine” before boarding a flight to the U.S. It is the only nation on the ATP tour that still requires a COVID-19 vaccination for international players to enter, according to There are some exceptions, but the Department of Homeland Security denied Djokovic’s appeal last week. (The ATP is the Association of Tennis Professionals.)

Speaking at the end of a news conference related to book ban issues, DeSantis spent nearly six minutes touting not only why Djokovic should be allowed to play tennis in South Florida later this month, but also to talk about his stances on the COVID pandemic.

For example, DeSantis mentioned the issue of banning ‘vaccine passports,’ a policy he enacted in 2021 and which was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit last November.

“We would be in a situation where you would have to be showing these papers to go to a different state or all of these other things,” DeSantis said. “I mean we would basically be in a bio-medical security state.”

In addition, DeSantis was among the first governors to open up his state after the country was essentially shut down in March 2020 and now proclaims Florida “the freest state in the United States.

What DeSantis doesn’t talk much about is how his administration ordered public schools to shut down – first for an extended spring break in March 2020, and then for the rest of that school year. Ultimately, all school districts in Florida did open by October 2020.

“Florida was the impenetrable roadblock to the (Anthony) Fauci envision that they had for this country,” he said. “And so, it’s not just yeah, I had to lead the charge, but we had a lot of Floridians who took pride in us bucking these elites, and us saying ‘not on our watch.’

Overall, the governor has alienated liberals around the country because of those COVID stances but they have helped make him a rising star in Republican national politics.

That said, under DeSantis’ watch during the pandemic, Florida now reports a total of 7,531,055 cumulative COVID cases and 86,850 deaths, according to a March 3 analysis from the state Department of Health.

DeSantis penned a letter to Biden on Tuesday urging him to reconsider his administration’s decision to ban Djokovic from entering the U.S., and said that it was not clear to him why Djokovic “could not legally enter this country via boat.”

“We think that coming by boat may be okay, even under Biden’s existing framework, so I’ve written a letter saying let him come,” DeSantis said on Wednesday. “If you’re not letting him come in by plane, at least confirm to us – not really because I care but because his camp wants to know that he could come by boat and that it would not be in violation of anything you’ve done.”

“Let’s just get real here,” the DeSantis added. ”It’s wrong to discriminate period on this basis, but how unscientific is it to cling to this particular mandate when we know that people are getting infected and people are spreading it regardless of the booster shots? So I hope he’s able to play. I hope the president will, not necessarily grant him special – I think what he should do is just repeal the rule. It’s not a good rule. It’s not something that makes sense.”

DeSantis is not the first Florida elected official to rally to Djokovic’s cause to be allowed to enter the U.S. to play in Miami. Last Friday both of Florida’s Republican U.S. Senators – Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, also wrote a letter to President Biden requesting his approval for a waiver of the administration’s current international travel restrictions.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.