Eric Stinton: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Usually the first home game of the football season is something to celebrate.

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Fans get decked out in home colors and face paint, stadium parking lots transform from oleaginous wastelands into social epicenters, and the air is invigorated with the smell of barbeque and the collective hope that this is the beginning of something good. It’s the kind of mindless fun that’s also an essential human experience.

This was the atmosphere at schools like Virginia Tech and the University of Wisconsin-Madison last weekend. Clips of packed stadiums at both campuses went viral, providing jarring contrasts to the University of Hawaii’s first home game of the season.

While thousands of Hokie fans in Lane Stadium erupted off to never-never land and a sea of Badger fans turned Camp Randall Stadium into a massive House of Pain, the Rainbow Warriors were cheered by artificial crowd noise at Ching Field in front of a few dozen media members.

Different states and institutions have different policies, but that’s not the only reason why there were packed houses on the mainland and empty bleachers on Oahu. A few miles down the road from the UH game, a “medical freedom” rally was unfolding in Waikiki, attended by people fighting for their right to spread an infectious disease. It’s a bizarre and dispiriting hill to die on, often literally.

In fairness, seeing all those fans packed like unmasked sardines in football stadiums made me feel a little uneasy, like I was watching a super-spreader event in real time. On the other hand, 91% of Wisconsin students and 95% of Virginia Tech students are vaccinated. This is a noteworthy example of the relationship between freedom and responsibility: Do the right things and you get to enjoy the nice things.

There is an important discussion to be had about whether huge crowds are safe and responsible regardless of vaccination rate, but these discussions aren’t new. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve constantly tried to negotiate between best medical practices and resuming some sort of normal functioning society.

When we were able to dine in restaurants again, a lot of people ridiculed the idea that you had to wear a mask while you were waiting to be served, since you could take it off once you were seated. For people unwilling to think at a level more sophisticated than a Facebook meme, this was a devastating gotcha. For everyone else it was an obvious and reasonable compromise: if we all do a few small, responsible things to help prevent the spread of a deadly virus, then we can all enjoy some of the pre-pandemic freedoms we took for granted.

Void of fans Clarence TC Ching Athletic Complex and stadium during the first UH Football game versus Portland State Vikings due to Covid-19 precautions. September 4, 2021
Unlike stadiums elsewhere in the country, the stands were empty during the first University of Hawaii home game against the Portland State Vikings due to Covid-19 precautions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The same logic applies here. If we all choose to get a free, easy-to-access vaccine that has been administered more than 5 billion times across the globe without any catastrophic fallout, we can do things like watch the Rainbow Warriors almost blow a four-touchdown lead against an overmatched opposing team.

What’s standing in the way is the “medical freedom” crowd who claim to be skeptics and critical thinkers while eagerly swallowing bogus information from social media; it’s amazing how all the “freethinkers” somehow say the exact same things and arrive at the exact same conclusions as all the YouTube videos they watch.

These are the same people who shriek the loudest about any and every precautionary measure, be it wearing masks or maintaining distance in grocery store checkout lines. It evokes all the nobility and sagacity of a toddler complaining about having to eat vegetables before they get their ice cream.

The irony is frustrating for the majority of Hawaii’s residents: the same people who claim to value freedom more than anything else are the very ones slowing down the process of returning to a normal life.

Though my frustration often clouds my empathy, I do genuinely understand why people are fed up with pandemic life. The last 18 months have felt like 18 years, and I want nothing more than to be able to share in the heartbreaking, hopeful, frivolous foolishness of being a Rainbow Warrior football fan.

But the way we get there is to address our challenges directly, not bury our heads in the sand. Specifically, that means getting vaccinated, requiring tourists to be vaccinated — if you need to be vaccinated to live a normal life in Hawaii, you should also need to be vaccinated to simply visit Hawaii — and continuing to do the small, daily steps that keep ourselves and each other safe.

It’s easy to hold a rally and pretend that you’re the victim. It relieves you from responsibility and gives you a constant target at which to point your finger — “Ige! Blangiardi! Biden!” It’s much harder, messier work to recognize yourself as part of the problem, and take steps to change.

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Latest Comments (0)

Please clean up your use of facts, because your opinioned writing (while I disagree) is very good. By doing a simple google search, I found that over 90% of UH Students and faculties were vaccinated prior to the game. Also, when adding natural immunity (those that had COVID) with initial vaccination for those 12 years old and older, the state is over 90% vaccinated. I acknowledge that studies in Kentucky and Israel disagree on effectiveness of natural immmunity. I think you should have argued that GOV Ige policies have led us to the lowest or second lowest contagion and morbidity rate. This is something to celebrate. Hawaii is the gold standard for COVID mitigation. Let WI and VA be them, we are Hawaiians and are doing things our way. That's why we elected the gov., lt gov, and our reps. So, we agreed to not watch UH football in person this year, sad, but a willing concession.Once the FDA approves the vaccine for kids, it's time for our government to explain that we will add COVID SAR 2 to the list like measels, chicken pox, small pox, etc, for mandatory vaccinations. We had anti-vaxxers prior to the pandemic, and they will remain after the pandemic. Let them protest. 

Rich_Lencz · 2 years ago

I no hate non-vaccers. They my family, friends and neighbors. Unify! Awe though, if you get sick because you catch Covid, please kokua and don't take the emergency bed space from the keiki who got in the accident, or the heart attack person. Got so many medicine and solutions on YouTube you can use instead. Good luck and God bless all of you. 

Makesense · 2 years ago

Sorry, but the decision to not allow fans to watch UH games, outside, while socially distancing, wearing masks and being vaccinated does not follow the science.  Rather it follows the personally feelings and steering by Gov. Ige, as a non-sensical decision.  Kind of like last year when hiking trails and parks where shut down.  Recall you could walk around the park, just not through it, or you would be ticketed.  Walk across the sand, but do not sit, particularly in large groups, or face the same.  While Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan have hosted fans in the hundreds of thousands, has there been a super spreader event anywhere?  The proof would be known by now.  Exactly, yet Hawaii continues to push a narrative of safety, in limiting peoples choices.  There is a logical way to have fans and no rational explanation why there can't be some spectators viewing sports here.  Hawaii just chooses to go backward when the world moves forward. 

wailani1961 · 2 years ago

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