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Calling a necessary time-out

For months, the public has been asking when sports would come back.  The U.S. President himself complained about having to watch “old games” on TV.  Truth be told, it is a little weird to watch a match that’s a year or more old.

But that’s been necessary in the age of COVID-19.  And now, after approximately 4 months of waiting, sports are slowly stepping back out into the light and onto television.  To varying degrees of success.

Part of that success rate is due to where it’s being played out.

The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) took over and sealed off an entire 25 km island in Abu Dhabi.  Hotel and arena staff, event personnel, island employees, coaches and athletes stayed inside this gigantic bubble for 15 days. Over twelve thousand tests were taken so that a hundred athletes could fight.  No one tested positive.

According to UFC President, Dana White, that’s the only safe way sports can come back right now.  The NBA is attempting something similar.  Basketball players are being given every possible luxury inside a Disney World bubble. That is, except the freedom to leave or have contact with their families.

The rules are purposely strict in part because these are high-contact sports.  Golf and tennis – in which the players are naturally more separated – have had looser controls.  But, again, varying levels of success.

Baseball’s plan isn’t so much a bubble as a chain-link fence.  However, nobody’s spitting in the dug-out and team managers have been seen pulling on a mask as they run out onto the field to yell in the face of the umpire.  And yet, nearly two dozen Miami Marlins athletes and staff tested positive, putting their season temporarily on hold.

Ironically, it’s the guys often known for head injuries and questionable impulse control that are taking a step back.  Many NFL players have given notice that they won’t risk their families’ health by playing this season.  No, they refuse to pile on other big sweaty men at a time when movie theatres are closed and restaurants keep diners six feet apart.

Yet, we, the spectators, want and expect them to play.  After all, they’re paid millions to do so.  And Washington Nationals’ Sean Doolittle even said during a press conference that “Sports are like a reward for a functioning society.” 

But that’s the key: we are not a functioning society right now.  We’re barely limping by.  So why won’t the sports world wait for things to stabilize?

Of course, televised sports have a huge financial impact on the economy.  From advertising to hospitality, travel to food services, it supports many peripheral local businesses.

But so does entertainment.  Hollywood – as big, if not more far-reaching than sports – has re-trenched.  New productions have been halted and “classic shows” are being re-run.  Only shows that can adhere to strict guidelines have considered shooting again.  And even that’s iffy right now.

So let’s take a note from the leatherheads and the world of make-believe.  Give the athletes a time-out so everyone has a chance at winning.