Smart move or not?
I have a quick question.
Do we know what we are doing?
Barring the unexpected, professional sports will be back by Aug. 1. Major League Baseball teams will be playing in their home ballparks, the NBA will be in its biosphere and the NFL’s training camps will be well underway. Professional golf is already holding tournaments.
Once that timeline was established, it was surprising how quickly we fell back into comfortable sports chat. There was debate from pundits about roster moves and indignation at the blasphemy of putting a runner at second to start an extra inning.
And then, about three paragraphs down in those stories, there was usually a sentence that said, “40 MLB players and staff, including four-time All-Star Charlie Blackmon, tested positive for COVID-19 last week.”
Forty sounds like a lot, until you remember that MLB hasn’t even started their all-inclusive testing yet. That happens this week, when everyone reports for “spring training.” Expect more positive results. Maybe a lot more.
The point is, when we planned on sports coming back by August, there was at least an unspoken expectation that the pandemic would be winding down. There would be fewer cases and we’d be taking that much-anticipated trip “back to normal.”
Instead, positive cases are not only staying high, they are climbing. Recently, daily infections set records. The United States has over 2.4 million cases. This is not winding down.
We are seeing it in sports. Last week five professional golfers, including two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, withdrew from the weekend tournament because they either tested positive or were exposed to someone who was.
Women’s Team USA soccer stalwarts Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Tobin Heath all withdrew from this summer’s pro soccer league tournament because of concerns about COVID-19.
Last week the NBA announced that it had tested all 302 players, and 16 were positive for the virus, including Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Keep in mind, in March the league shut down the entire season when one player, Rudy Gobert, was found to have COVID-19.
Also, the reality of being quarantined for as many as 82 straight days is starting to dawn on everyone in the NBA. Celtics coach Brad Stevens is reportedly among those pushing to allow families in the bubble during the basketball bakeoff, to ease the stress of months of confinement.
The point is, we are taking all these extraordinary measures, rushing pell-mell to launch what are really exhibition seasons. What, exactly, is the rush?
Even the hard-line NFL types are having their doubts. There are reports of “several” teams who might support pushing the start of the season back to October. That after a surprising survey that showed fan support for waiting to open the season for health reasons.
And frankly, the players must feel like canaries in a coal mine. Hey guys, go out there and be part of the largest social distancing experiment of the pandemic. And let us know how you feel. Because if a bunch of you get sick, we may have to reevaluate.
Now, you’re going to say professional athletes are lousy candidates for the virus. They are young, strong and healthy. Even if they get COVID, they’ll shake it off. Besides, they are going to be in incredibly safe and sterile surroundings.
First, news stories about triathletes who get COVID and end up flat on their back, fighting for breath, make it clear being young and healthy does not make you immune. Also, there’s another factor.
As predicted here some time ago, team owners are already trying to weasel out of the “no fans” pledge. After whining about the loss of revenue from concessions and ticket sales, Houston owner Jim Crane recently said, now that negotiations are over, he might just put fans in the stadium after all.
You’ll remember Crane. He’s the guy who, after his Astros were disciplined by MLB for the sign-stealing embarrassment, said he didn’t think the cheating had an “impact on the game.” So we’ve already gotten a fix on his moral compass.
Now he’s saying that, because of the revenue shortfall, the only thing he can do “is get some people in the building and sell some tickets, some merchandise, some cold beer, whatever they’d like to have.”
Texas, of course, is one of the states hardest hit in the recent spike in COVID cases. Along with Arizona and Florida, Texas announced earlier this month that the state would allow large gatherings. Record increases in positive cases have followed in all three states and Texas is now pulling back on reopenings.
So injecting fans into what is supposed to be a controlled environment sounds foolhardy. But you know that if Crane gets to sell tickets and hot dogs, other owners will want to, too. Sure enough, the White Sox and Marlins are already exploring the idea.
And now Roger Goodell has announced that the NFL is thinking of ways to play in stadiums in front of paying customers.
It’s an easy argument to fall into. We’re going to social distance. Check temperatures. Fans will have to wear masks, at least until they reach their seats. Everyone knows the rules now. We will be careful.
Which was exactly what they said in Texas, Arizona and Florida. And now, not only are cases up in record numbers, they are up among 20- and 30-year-olds. It is obvious those states opened up too quickly.
I’d just hate to hear that we said that about sports. I’m as eager to see games on TV as anyone. And there may very well be a way to do this in a safe, sensible way in this extremely weird and scary time.
But I’d like to know that the decisions were being made on the basis of health.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius