This could be a familiar sight for the football season — empty seats and virtual fans. (photo John Burgess, Press Democrat)
This has never happened in professional sports.
In the midst of a deadly pandemic, the Big Three — Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL — are attempting to restart their seasons simultaneously.
To say it has been a clownshow would be an insult to clowns.
First because it is pretty clear we only have a limited grasp of where we are with COVID-19. Cases are declining in some areas, up in others, but it is still infecting over 20,000 people each day according to the CDC. More than 110,000 people have died.
Still, precautions have been taken. States have opened shops, beaches and restaurants. So there is a logic to trying to find a way to get professional sports back, at least on television.
But wow, what a confusing mess.
Baseball has . . . oh baseball, what is wrong with you? It was all set up. A triumphant return for America’s Pastime, on the Fourth of July with flags waving and big brass bands playing. Instead, owners and players have devolved into a bickerfest that has managed to convince us that both sides are selfish and greedy. Let us know when you come up with something guys, we’re done.
The NBA looked like the smooth, slick operation at first. They announced a plan with games played at Disney World. They set dates and looked ready to steal baseball’s thunder. But Kyrie Irving played the not-so-fast card last week. Irving raised concerns about the current social climate as well as the fact that while a few superstars (and he admitted he was one of them) would be earning big bucks, younger players are making much less.
Irving’s comments kicked off some muttering in the ranks. Players are concerned about risking injury and health concerns from the virus. Also it may have dawned on everyone that they really will be expected to live in a closed biosphere for months. Stay tuned.
It is only the NFL that has gone blithely forward without a care in the world. Asked for a quote about whether there will be a 2020 NFL season, the league put its fingers in its ears and loudly sang, “LA-LA-LA-LA.”
They held their NFL draft, although virtually. The announcement of the 2020 schedule, was a three-hour, made-for-TV event. They’re plowing through this and never is heard a discouraging word.
Take NFL Chief Medical Officers Dr. Allen Sills, speaking on “The Adam Schefter Podcast:”
“I am very optimistic that we’ll be playing football in the fall of 2020 . . . and on the schedule we’ve outlined.”
Even Coronavirus guru Dr. Anthony Fauci says he can picture games being played in September. Not only that, he’s opening the door to a limited number of fans in the stands.
Fauci said the season couldn’t start if pandemic conditions were what they are now, “but (if there’s improvement) I could see filling a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people would be six feet apart.”
Which is the news every NFL fan wants to hear. Football back on TV in September. Playoffs. The Super Bowl.
And that’s a great concept. But once you begin to hear how resuming the season would look, it doesn’t sound so simple.
Let’s begin with the acknowledgment that football is different. Baseball and basketball players bump into each other, but football players actively search each other out to hit. And then, if they are blocking, they try to stay right in the other guy’s face, huffing and puffing potential virus vapor.
As Dr. Sills dryly observes, “Football and physical distancing are not compatible with each other.”
A 2003 study about a MRSA outbreak found that offensive linemen and linebackers were most likely to be infected. But everyone is at risk, as the recent opening of some college football programs has shown. This month it was announced that eight Alabama players tested positive.
So if the case hadn’t already been made for stringent precautions, this should do it. Ideas range from face masks inside helmets to the extreme (and less likely) measure of quarantining everyone, players, coaches, trainers, locker room attendants, chefs, and others, in a contained space for five months. That’s no family, breaks and no leaving campus for five months.
At least one NFL influencer looks at the list of precautions and sees chaos.
“It’s impossible what they are asking us to do — humanly impossible,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said on Baltimore radio station 105.7 The Fan. “I’m pretty sure the huddle is not going to be six-feet spaced. Are guys going to shower one at a time all day? Are guys going to lift weights one at a time all day? You throw your hands up and you go, ‘What the heck? There’s no way this can be right.'”
So is restarting the season foolhardy or logical? Will there be no fans or some fans? And what if the virus numbers stay relatively the same, but there is tremendous pressure — economic and social — to get the games back on TV?
Is it really possible the strategy is to put the players back on the field — with what we hope will be enough safety precautions — and see what happens?
Right now, that’s how it seems.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius