In the interest of public safety, millions of Americans who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have voluntarily isolated themselves from friends and family for two long and lonely weeks.
Justin Turner wouldn’t quarantine for two hours.
In the interest of common sense, millions of other Americans have been purposely absent for many deeply personal events, canceling weddings, postponing funerals, missing births.
Justin Turner wouldn’t skip a trophy celebration.
And so one of the greatest team accomplishments in the history of Los Angeles sports has been marred by a singular act of selfishness, the divine tinged with disappointment, a lovable leader now bathed in disillusionment.
In his seven years as a Dodger, the red-bearded Turner has become everybody’s favorite hometown kid. He’s like an embraceable stuffed animal with real teeth. He’s shaggy, tough, resilient, kind, charitable, the player who gives an autographed ball to the nightly honored veteran, the player who began this abbreviated season warning teammates about their pandemic responsibility.
Who would have thought he could be so irresponsible?
The friction: About an hour after the final pitch, Turner ended his brief isolation in a stadium doctor’s office to return to the field to hug his teammates and their families while wearing a mask. Then he plopped down on the grass and removed his mask for a team photo. He was soon joined on the ground by Manager Dave Roberts, a cancer survivor who was also not wearing a mask. Turner then strolled around the infield without a mask before posing for a photo with the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Turner was approached by a member of Major League Baseball’s security detail, but he refused to leave. He knew he was exposing the virus to dozens of others including wives and children and at least one pregnant woman, yet he still insisted on staying.
As someone who suffered with the COVID-19 virus a couple of months ago, this columnist can attest that transmission is a dangerous act, infection is a big deal, and anyone who would willingly risk either is a complete blockhead.
So what should have been a triumphant Los Angeles moment has been shaded in shame. What should have been a moment of elation has been transformed into a portrait of edginess. The third-base cornerstone of the Dodgers’ first championship in 32 years has botched his last play.
If you’re keeping track at home, the Dodgers’ celebration is scored an E-5.
“We are the champions … we’re just not the most responsible champions,” said Anne Rimoin, a lifelong Dodger fan who is a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Health and an expert in emerging infectious diseases.
Rimoin said she understands Turner’s desire to join his long-suffering teammates in partying like it was 1988. And who wouldn’t? This is a player whose first baseball memory was watching Kirk Gibson’s home run with his grandfather in Lakewood. He was signed by Ned Colletti off the scrap heap in 2014. He appreciates and deserves this title as much as anybody.
But for the sake of all collateral damage he might have caused, nobody deserved to have him come back outside.
“Everybody wants to celebrate, that’s all very important, but leaving isolation to go back on the field, that shows you how much human beings struggle to do the right thing,” she said. “He really didn’t go the right thing here. At the end of the day, he let his fans down.”
Should MLB have stopped him? Sure, officials should have escorted him from the stadium premises immediately after he tested positive upon threat of forfeit. But once they let him stay, even in that isolated room, there was no holding him back, and league security tried.
“It is clear that Turner chose to disregard the agreed-upon joint protocols and the instructions he was given regarding the safety and protection of others,” read a league statement Wednesday in which Turner was wholly condemned. “When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply.”
Should the Dodgers have stopped him? Certainly, it would have been nice if some hearty soul with some authority could quietly convinced him that he was not only risking the Dodgers health but damaging their reputation. But because Turner became a free agent Wednesday, he essentially didn’t work for them anymore, and, besides, who was going to start a fight with such a strong leader?
“He’s part of the team,” said Mookie Betts, stunned that anyone would suggest that Turner be convinced to return to isolation. “We’re not excluding him from anything.”
Only Justin Turner could truly shut down Justin Turner.
“Who’s brave enough to go to him and say, ‘Hey I’m not OK with this?’” said Rimoin. “There’s a power dynamic at play there. Who would feel comfortable saying that to Justin Turner?”
But what if Turner had stopped himself? Now that would have been special. Can you imagine how many people he could have touched if he had touched nobody, choosing instead to show the world how someone can celebrate in isolation, modeling responsibility, setting an example, teaching a hard lesson?
“He had this opportunity to do the right thing, to show people exactly what it means to have restraint, to be a good shining example of what you should do,” said Rimoin. “Of course you’re excited, this is the big moment in his career, but he could have gotten a lot of great press for doing a video, telling people how difficult it was, but he was doing the right thing.”
But instead, it was an opportunity lost, an image possibly damaged, a legacy potentially stained.
“Instead, he put a lot of people around him at risk,” said Rimoin. “And now he’s an example to a lot of people, ‘If Justin Turner can do it, why can’t I?’ And that’s a real problem.”
Turner didn’t speak to the media Tuesday night, but tweeted a message to his fans that read, in part, “I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine.”
Here’s hoping one those emotions is eventually remorse. And here’s hoping his next message conveys that emotion from quarantine.