April 18, 2020

As someone who has been writing about sports for several decades now – the last 25 years full time – I suppose I should welcome back athletics at a time when so much of daily life has been shut down.

In fact I do, but only when the moment seems right. Right now it feels unseemly to contemplate the return of professional sports and televised games when there are so many more important matters to attend to. Like saving lives. Reducing the rate of further infections. Making sure health care workers are properly outfitted. Seeing to it that adequate testing is available so that our schools reopen, businesses return and people can go out in the streets and engage each other directly. Until then I am fine with waiting it out.

Major League Baseball has been toying with the notion of sequestering all 30 teams in the Phoenix area for a season to be played out in various empty stadiums there, with the athletes, coaches, support staff, umpires and limited media hermetically sealed in hotels, their meals delivered to them under carefully controlled conditions, with frequent testing to ensure that no one has the corona virus; and if they do, to isolate them immediately. Really?

It would surely make for interesting TV, especially with nothing else to view of the ilk except reruns of classic games, tightly edited highlight packages and soft-focus documentaries about Michael Jordan’s final championship season. No doubt the various cable channels are hungry for something to fill their airtime and much in need of the commercial support that live coverage would provide.

The PGA Tour has announced tentative plans for a revamped schedule of golf tournament, starting in early June and running into October or November. The first three of these, in Fort Worth, Texas, June 11-14, Harbour Town, S.C., June 18-21 and Hartford, Conn., June 25-28, are planned to take place without spectators lining the fairways. To say the least, such an effort would require extraordinary calculations, massive amounts of testing, and the presence of medical professionals to attend to any on-site emergencies or infections.

It’s one thing to allow for recreational golf out of recognition that the activity, spread over 125 acres, can be conducted in accordance with basic social distancing measures and precautions for “touchless” golf. At the same time, a strong case can be made that even such outdoor recreation needlessly endangers people and puts people on the road and in proximity with each other at points that could endanger public health.

There’s a reason why 15 states have deemed golf as “non-essential” and shut golf courses. The game has been closed off across Great Britain and Ireland, as well as most of Continental Europe. In France, authorities have taken the closure so far as to decree that even if casual golf is allowed to return this year, anyone over the age of 65 will not be allowed back to play until development of an effective vaccine.

Against the backdrop of wailing ambulance sirens, exhausted doctors, nurse expected to function without adequate protective gear and a death toll reaching 34,000 in the U.S. that has also entailed acute risk for anyone living in a nursing home, it seems premature at best, ghoulish at worst, to contemplate activating professional sports as part of salving national ritual.

The idea that as a nation we need collective healing and that this will be the function of organized sports seems strangely miscast these days. To be fair, the commissioners of the major sports who are trying to explore ways to bring their games back repeatedly include a proviso about the need for “widespread testing” as a precondition. Diverting resources so that overpaid men (and their lower-paid female counterparts) can go back onto the playing fields is a very bad idea. It speaks to the power of the sports-industrial complex these days that such notions have gained any circulation at all.

It also says something about the political power of “pandemic deniers” that they think the whole matter has been overblown and that the sooner we return to normal the better.

There isn’t going to be a normal for quite some time. Get used to it and adapt. Be a good sport. Take a quiet hike. Read a book about a famous athlete. Play online chess with your grandkids. Stretch. Garden.

Discipline your body like a real athlete. Now that would be a true return to sports befitting the trying times we are in.
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This article has 3 comments

  1. Elliott W Klein Reply

    There are outlets for healthy outdoor personal activity; walking, bicycling, and if disciplined enough, yoga and tai chi. It might do us more good than the passion for couch surfing “sports”. It really is up to you to find the possible.

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