Opinion: Sports world knew when to stop two months ago, but are leagues getting too eager to restart?
The plans are coming fast and furious now. MLB could start by the Fourth of July, college football in late August, the NFL just after Labor Day. Oh, for it all to be true. But what if it’s not?
What if our sports leaders are being far too optimistic? What if their exuberance is misleading? What if, in trying to lift our morale – and theirs – they’re actually doing the nation a disservice, delivering a false sense of security, making us think things are fine when they most definitely are not?
It was the sports world that signaled the severity of the coronavirus pandemic to a skeptical nation, including our president, on March 11 when the NBA suddenly announced it was suspending its season after the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
Who doesn’t remember where they were that evening when the alert lit up our phones and television screens? The NBA awakened a nation to the overwhelming magnitude of the crisis in a way that the White House had not. When the NBA said it was shutting down, it was clear the sports world had found its voice.
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Fans leave Chesapeake Energy Arena after it was announced that the game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed on March 11. (Photo: Alonzo Adams, USA TODAY Sports)
Over the next couple of days, as sports disappeared before our eyes, our great escape became a sobering mirror of our society. As sports went, so went the nation.
The leadership the sports world exhibited in those early days was exemplary. When some of our political leaders went south, sports became our North Star. Sports showed us the way.
But now, with its timelines and plans and schedules, the sports world is getting ahead of itself, and all of us. Of course it’s exciting to think about baseball coming back. But what if it’s not returning this year? What if MLB and the NBA and NHL won’t be able to play at all the rest of this year? What if the NFL can’t either?
Optimism is lovely, but honesty matters even more right now. There’s a distinct possibility that our big pro sports leagues will be shuttered until 2021. Not many people in the sports world want to admit it, but of course that’s a possibility.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Our testing is severely lacking. We have no vaccine, obviously, and no treatments. What the next few months hold is anyone’s guess. Who on Valentine’s Day would have pictured that this is what mid-May would look like?
There now are more than 82,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19, and a new coronavirus model is predicting 147,000 deaths in the United States by August. Governors who have issued stringent, no-nonsense restrictions on their states are far more popular than those who have loosened quarantine orders, a new Washington Post-Ipsos poll found.
And on Tuesday, it was announced that Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home order will likely remain in place until August, reminding us that our biggest sports towns will be the last places in the nation to re-open.
Perhaps we’ll get lucky and sports will find a way back before 2021. If the nation is ready, then sports should by all means return.
But right now, the nation is nowhere near ready. Two months ago, the sports world knew when to stop. As we’re finding out, it’s far more difficult to know when to start again.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Christine Brennan on Twitter @cbrennansports.
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