Embed from Getty Images
I love sports as much as anyone.
Sports consume me. They are on my mind the majority of every day. Honestly, I love them more than anything outside of my family. This has been the case since I was a baby watching Yankees games with my grandfather and having no idea what was going on. Sports are a part of my identity. I dearly miss them.
I am also not in a big rush to have them come back.
We are experiencing a global human crisis, unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. At this point, it would be difficult to find someone who isn’t directly or indirectly connected to this virus. There is no need to recount the harrowing numbers. Many of us have felt the long-reaching impact of the pandemic for over a month now.
There is a natural tendency to find and hold onto things that remind us of normalcy. The quarantine has thrown our routines for a loop. When things are in disarray we look for anchors. Sports are that anchor for many. So it makes sense that we want them to return as quickly as possible. I share that desire, but not at the expense of health and safety.
In a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci said there is a way to bring baseball back this summer. Fans wouldn’t be able to attend the games. It would require weekly testing, strict quarantining, and detailed surveillance. On the surface, this is encouraging and hopeful. And we all need hope nowadays. We also need a context that extends beyond the sports world. Taking a step back, is the country really in a position to handle a return to sports in the immediate future?
There are endless stories about our brave medical professionals fighting on the front lines with inadequate protection. In New York City, there are nurses wearing garbage bags while treating sick patients. Doctors are wearing empty salad containers over their faces. Medical staffs have to repeatedly disinfect N95 masks for re-use. Without getting into the politics of why this is the case, it is patently absurd that weeks into the pandemic hospital staff must resort to YouTube level DIY solutions to protect themselves and others during a pandemic.
Understanding the larger picture, is it appropriate to bring sports back under these circumstances? Boredom pales in comparison to matters of life and death. Unfortunately, our collective idea of normalcy no longer exists. Those days of normal are now apart of the lore of yesteryear.
The need to experience a distraction or an escape during trauma is valid. One issue is a return to sports reminds us of that trauma at every turn. We will see empty stadiums. The dugouts may be empty because the players may sit in the stands six feet apart. The announce teams will constantly tell us about the weird context we’re all consuming these games in. We aren’t going to escape anything. We’ll have to actively disconnect from what we’re seeing and hearing just to attempt to suspend reality. That is a tall task.
Of course, there are arguments for an immediate return to sports. Some will say if the medical experts deem it safe to play than what is the issue. Why should I read a “rando blogger” and his silly complaints? I get it. But it is important to point out that the leading medical experts still don’t fully understand how the virus behaves. They are still in the process of learning all of its characteristics. As a result, the recommendations for protection are constantly evolving. One week we’re told it’s ok to go outside without masks. The next week wearing a mask in public is a requirement. The potential distance at which the virus could travel in the air changes as more research is done. Even in places where social distancing was enacted relatively early, the rate of infections remains scary.
Some parts of the country may re-open if they meet certain criteria while others will remain in lockdown. Federal, state and local governments remain at odds with one another on how to properly and safely move forward. We are hardly seeing a consensus amongst the people in charge.
To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of the medical experts. They have been tremendous. They are in a really difficult position and their incredible efforts do not go unnoticed. Instead, this is acknowledging that our understanding of this novel virus changes with more information. Recommendations from the medical community are fluid so there is no guarantee they will give the green light at the first sign of improvement. Their primary responsibility is to mitigate the spread and protect our healthcare system until a vaccine is found.
There are some who will argue that certain places in the country are less impacted than places like New York City, Philadelphia, and Detroit so it’s ok to start sports up again. I’m glad many people aren’t living in these hot spots. It sucks living in this country’s ground zero. The reality is you don’t have to live in a hot spot to be at risk. We are all at risk right now. The simple point is we don’t want this thing to spread. The lower number of cases in specific areas isn’t protection from the virus. Social distancing, testing, and protective equipment protect us from it.
Speaking of those things, there is also the issue of test, PPE and medical equipment availability. There is a nationwide shortage of tests. Contact tracing isn’t available. States are competing against one another for ventilators. Everyday citizens are volunteering to create masks for medical workers. It looks pretty selfish and tone-deaf to have sports leagues command so many resources when there is a such a startling finite amount of resources available.
I have a close friend who most likely had the virus. Despite showing all of the core symptoms, he wasn’t give a test because the symptoms weren’t extreme enough. He didn’t fit the qualifications to get a test simply because there weren’t enough to go around. They sent him home. He had to ride it out not knowing if he was carrying the virus. This reality is a tough one to reconcile.
Keep in mind, the quarantine plan for players has very real challenges. In order for baseball to return, MLB has to account for team staff, medical staff, clubhouse staff, stadium employees, tv crew, transportation staff, kitchen staff, maintenance staff, and hotel staff. You aren’t going to quarantine everyone. If tests and safety equipment are readily available for everyone involved to play games, shouldn’t these precious supplies first be available for our medical professionals and citizens who are immediately at risk?
I’m pretty sure some of you are reading this looking for anything to tell you things will quickly return to the way it used to be. Trust me, I wish I could provide that for you. But it is important to stress how crucial of a time we’re in. We’re talking about life and death. Sports are an important piece of our lives, but first, we need to ensure that we all have healthy lives to live. We also need the athletes, coaches, and staff to be healthy. It just feels like sports should return when it is appropriate and safer to do so.
The good news is we will get sports back. We will see our beloved Yankees again. They are going to win the World Series when the season starts up. The season may start in June. It may start in July. We may have to wait until next year to see them win it all. But they will be back. Sports will be back. We just need a little patience to see this through.
Stay safe and stay healthy.