New York Daily News: By Joseph Wilkinson – The Special Olympics dropped a planned COVID vaccine mandate for this month’s USA Games in Florida.

Florida has outlawed vaccine mandates and threatened to fine the nonprofit $27.5 million. According to Florida’s health department, the Special Olympics would have violated the law 5,500 times if it checked every participant’s vaccine status.

“Delegates who were registered for the Games but were unable to participate due to the prior vaccine requirement, now have the option to attend,” Special Olympics International said in a Friday press release.

The USA Games begin June 5 in Orlando and run through June 12. Governor Ron DeSantis has been a vocal critic of COVID vaccine mandates and pushed for the Florida law banning them. He applauded the Special Olympics’ decision Friday at a press conference.

“In Florida, we want all of them to be able to compete,” DeSantis said. “We do not think it’s fair or just to be marginalizing some of these athletes based on a decision that has no bearing on their ability to compete with honor or integrity.”

Not everyone was so happy, however.

“The only reason we are alive to discuss this issue is because vaccines work,” Orlando attorney Judi Hayes told the Orlando Sentinel. “But (DeSantis) wants to curry favor with the anti-science troglodytes and bullies the Special Olympics. Who does that?”

Hayes has an 11-year-old son with Down syndrome and told the Sentinel that she planned on attending the Special Olympics — until the organization dropped its vaccine mandate. She was particularly peeved that DeSantis and his wife, Casey, will keep their positions as honorary chairs of the USA Games.

The rift between the Special Olympics and Florida’s health department was first reported Thursday, but it had reportedly been brewing for months. Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo told the Sentinel that he’d been negotiating with the group for six months trying to resolve the vaccine mandate problem without a million-dollar fine. Ladapo said it was “for the sake of these athletes.”

DeSantis also vetoed a $35 million project for a potential new spring training site for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Two days after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the Rays and Yankees used their Twitter accounts to tweet about gun violence instead of the night’s game between the two teams.

With News Wire Services

Top Feature Photo: Florida Gov Ron DeSantis speaks at an event – Marta Lavandier/AP