As July turns to August, we’re all of a sudden flooded with sports. The NBA is back. So is the WNBA and the NHL and MLB (mostly). The PGA Tour has been around for a while; the LPGA returns this weekend.
What once was a relatively sleepy time on the sports calendar is now Grand Central Station at rush hour. Hockey as a mid-summer sport? The dog days of August have never had it so good.
As the country just passed the somber milestone of 150,000 coronavirus deaths, and as responsible citizens continue to stay close to home, practice social distancing and wear masks, a summer escape is welcome. For a nation as obsessed with sports as the United States, our pro leagues and tours are especially appreciated. Just the simple act of checking your phone on a summer night to see how your MLB team is doing is a comforting sign that a little piece of your life is back to normal, if only for that minute.
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And yet, it all feels like a mirage. It’s there, but it’s not the real thing, and we all know it. Some top players have opted out, watching these pseudo seasons go on without them. After MLB’s atrocious handling of the outbreak that has decimated the Miami Marlins, taking the team entirely off the schedule for a week, it’s natural to wonder who’s the next baseball team to go.
If you’re not playing in a bubble, but instead moving 30 teams from hot spot to hot spot in the midst of a raging pandemic, as MLB is trying to do, the best thing to say probably is this: Enjoy it while you can.
A few weeks ago, Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle uttered the sports quote of the year. It’s worth repeating now.
“We’re way worse off as a country than we were in March when we shut this thing down,” he told reporters in early July. “And look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functioning society. And we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.”
As we think ahead to the possibility of football in the fall, especially 18-to-23-year-olds trying to play the college game for our entertainment without the safeguard of a bubble, well, my goodness. The historic recklessness of that decision, should it happen, will be remembered for decades.
So far, the professional sports that are playing during the pandemic have been lucky. As far as we know, they have caused no deaths. Vocal critics of safety, caution and reason contend that young athletes aren’t going to die from COVID-19, as if these people have somehow seen the future and just know this to be true. Here’s hoping they are right.
But what if they’re not? Or what if it’s not an athlete who tragically dies, but a family member? Or a beloved assistant coach or staffer? Or a referee or umpire? How many hospitalizations, illnesses and deaths are we willing to accept to have our sports back? So far, it appears the answer is limitless.
Occasionally, a morsel of honesty slips from the mouths of our big-league heroes. The other day, Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who has a heart condition, admitted he was unsettled after the Marlins’ outbreak.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared. I really am,” he said.
We should all be scared. So while we enjoy our August sports bonanza, let’s never silence that little voice in our heads, the one asking the simple question: is it all worth it?
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