Should sports resume at all in 2020? Even without fans at games?
The question seems increasingly reasonable to ask as we come upon 100 days without live sports - even as we all miss the cheering, the touchstone of normalcy that our teams can offer.
We all dream of the TV cornucopia this fall, the promise of the NBA and NHL, of baseball and soccer all in the midst of their resumed seasons as the NFL and college football begin.
It could happen. Looks like it will happen. The sports plate could be full, albeit with stadiums and arenas empty, presuming MLB ever gets its act together and reconciles on a restart plan as the other leagues have.
But is that safe? Is it smart? Beyond the economic infusion, is it right?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the science in the storm, the voice of reason above the fray of politics, said something interesting this week. It did not get the attention it was due because he didn't say it from a White House pulpit.
To the Los Angeles Times, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases warned of the potential dangers of a restarted baseball season going beyond the "core summer months" and into fall when the weather gets cold.
"I would avoid that," Dr. Fauci said. He meant "the overlap between influenza and the possibility of a fall second wave (of coronavirus/COVID-19)."
He was speaking specifically of MLB, but the NBA, NHL and MLS all would be returning along a similar timeline and playing into fall. And football would be playing in the heart of fall and winter, when concerns about a recurrence or spike in coronavirus cases would be greatest.
We already have seen a notable uptick in cases in states like Florida that have more aggressively "opened 'up" to stimulate the economy more than some other states have.
Plainly, we are not nearly past a pandemic that already has claimed some 120,000 American lives - a scourge that will be harder and harder to fully get past as more and more states open up.
Should sports foist itself into the middle of all of this? Should leagues expect their athletes to assume what will still be a risk, despite precautions, until a vaccine is found?
We haven't even mentioned the additional factor: the nationwide protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing - a demand for social justice such as the nation has not seen to this magnitude since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.
The optics of playing games in the midst of an uprising from the streets is something some NBA players already have mentioned as giving them pause about a season restart this summer.
It's crazy, but we are thinking about and talking about sports more than ever.
Just not scores and stats.
Everything else. Everything intertwining leagues and athletes in America's ongoing dual challenge of fighting a COVID-19 pandemic and fighting for social justice - both essential to the nation's health and future.
People who know me (but evidently not that well) always ask things like, "What do you find to write about with no games going on?"
Well, how about everything that reminds us, now more than ever, that athletes are human beings first. People not impervious to a pandemic. Or to inequality based on skin color.
So what do I find to write about? Hmm. How about Bubba Wallace, the NASCAR Cup Series' lone black driver, championing the sport's new ban on Confederate flags?
Or sports figures including stars like Ezekiel Elliott, Von Miller and Dale Jarrett testing positive for coronavirus?
How about baseball commissioner Rob Manfred veering from "100 percent" certainty on MLB's restart to serious doubts in a whirlwind couple of day?
Or white quarterback Baker Mayfeld saying he'll join the anthem kneeling this fall in the wake of the Floyd killing and the national protest movement that resulted.
(And, hey, do you think the Miami Heat might actually have a shot at Giannis Antetoukumpo in free agency next summer?)
How about Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard calling out coach Mike Gundy for wearing the T-shirt of a far-right network whose commentators spew conspiracy theories and criticize the Black Lives Matter movement?
Or a faction of NBA players including Kyrie Irving not liking the optics of playing games again this summer while the cry for social justice still rises up from the streets.
("Shut up and dribble!"
No. Will not!).
How about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaking out for social justice and saying - better four years late than never - that the league should have supported Colin Kaepernick all along in the anthem-kneeling protest he began?
Or the fact Kaepernick is still out of work. Or an entire Iowa high school baseball team taking a knee before the recent restart of its season.
(The Tampa Bay Bucs released photos of Tom Brady in his new uniform, and the visual is about as jarring as seeing Jesus in a business suit).
How about New York announcing the U.S. Open would go on as planned sans fans beginning Aug. 31 as some players voice unease and safety concerns?
Or the University of Virginia changing its logo to remove a design associated with the school's ties to slavery.
Into this maelstrom, live sports inches back. Games again. Scores. Stats.
All of the trivial stuff it feels so good to make seem so damned important.
I hope we get all of that again as this brutal year of 2020 plays out.
I'll believe it when I see it.
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