July 5, 2020

Sports Returning is the Perfect Statement About What We Are

Illustration for article titled Sports Returning is the Perfect Statement About What We Are

Photo: Despite COVID spikes all over the country, MLB offices at places like Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, will soon be opening. (Getty Images)

With MLB’s announcement last week that it will officially return, every major professional league is in the pool. The NWSL started this past weekend in Utah. MLS will start next week with a tournament in Orlando. As we move along, the NBA, NHL, and WNBA will return with their various plans. Lurking in the background is Godzilla, the NFL. You get the feeling the Earth would actually have to open up and swallow at least half the country before the NFL would even consider moving games back in the calendar.

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To review, the US is seeing 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day. And that number is only expected to rise in the coming weeks, purely because of idiocy, greed, and callousness. Just today, there are 6,000 new cases in Florida alone, which will be the site of three leagues’ bubbles. For comparison, Italy had one day of above 6,000 new cases in March. We saw that and decided it looked like fun?

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The powers that be want you to believe that sports returning serves as a symbol of our handling of the coronavirus, or our resolve as a people, or our capabilities. You know it’s all bullshit, but it is a symbol. It’s a symbol of all we are not, all we are not doing, what is important to those who actually make the decisions, and how they got into those positions.

Sure, in their weak attempts to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes or play to the base, they pointed to South Korea and the KBO or Germany and the Bundesliga. “They can do it, so we must be able to,” went the argument. “We’re the USA. No one gets ahead of us or makes us look bad!”

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But those two leagues in those two countries were an example of their reaction and procedures to handle the pandemic. It was a symbol of a collective buy-in from all of those societies to take the steps necessary to avoid total disaster (and Germany is nowhere near South Korea on that scale). They were in it together, not just paying lip-service to it.

While certainly in Germany concerns over TV contracts played a part, it at least felt slightly more altruistic in that it was a bid to save a litany of clubs that would have gone under without a resumption of play. No team in the four major leagues over here would have ever been in danger of zapping out of existence had these North American leagues decided not to return, or are prevented from doing so by the continued bungling of COVID-19 across the country in the future.

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Sure, there are minor league baseball teams that will cease operations after this lost summer for them, much like second division teams in Germany would have. Except here, that was always part of the plan.

As fraught with peril the return to play for Spain’s La Liga or Italy’s Seria are, it’s at least representative of those countries’ recovery from being the epicenter of Europe for the disease and its destruction. After thousands upon thousands of deaths, both countries were able to widdle their number of new cases daily to the low hundreds or lower. Again, they did it through everyone adhering to strict guidelines and lockdowns to save lives. A unified response.

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All of those leagues could return with the expectation that everyone involved would adhere to the protocols and processes in place and that there was a system in place for when players or staff tested positive. Certainly, none of these countries got 100 percent negative tests at first, but they were in a place to deal with it. Massive outbreaks in those countries and leagues have been avoided so far.

We still have a massive outbreak. Sports aren’t returning because it’s safe to do so, because we’ve demonstrated the capacity to do what’s necessary to keep everyone, or even anyone, safe. They’re returning simply due to greed and selfishness and because too many people feel their boredom and removal from a normal routine for just a short amount of time is a violation of their rights, if not humanity.

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Every sport will see positive tests. Fuck, MLB announced their return about seven minutes before it was announced Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies had tested positive by working out at Coors Field. Does anyone have faith that any league has the capability of dealing with these as they occur again and again? Especially as we get closer and then into various restarts? After reports that one organization, the Texas Rangers, forced employees back to work who had tested positive already? In hardly a safe atmosphere of Texas? We know what this industry’s real goals are.

Because here, it is up to the leagues themselves. There is no national structure, and in a lot of places, there isn’t even a local one. Can you trust, for example, the NHL to do the right thing should three or four or seven or 10 players on one team test positive (or 26 as the case may be)? Based on the fact that they’re supposedly looking at using a law in Ontario addressed to migrant workers to duck positive tests, you have your answer. And it would seem the players are as enthusiastic as you would be about returning to an unsafe environment but feel helpless to do anything about it. Who said hockey isn’t American?

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Does it not say something, intentionally or not, that the NBA is sending the biggest majority of Black players in any league to the absolute worst spot, Florida? To a place where even the employees there don’t want to be? Is it so important? All because the league happens to have a TV deal with that parent company? Sure, MLS and the WNBA are also planning on camping in Florida, for many of the same reasons. But why? And that’s if they can even get there safely.

It’s hard to ignore that the NWSL, struggling like any women’s league to claw out a permanent foothold in the sporting conscience, was so desperate to be the first league back and to preserve its new TV deal with CBS that it needs badly, would embark on their restart even if a whole team can’t play.

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Baseball still desperately and falsely clings to the idea that it is America’s Pastime, the ultimate symbol of the country and its values. And yet after the owners spent so long claiming it would be more affordable for them to not play at all, they were determined enough to offer up a joke of a season. And yet they won’t provide service time or pay for players with in-danger family at home who choose not to put them at risk. Your family’s health is not as important as our bottom-lines, is what they’re saying, no matter how small of a difference those salaries or service time would make. As we saw with the Rangers, even their not above being used to try and make a point born out of ignorance and greed.

Every sport has to get it absolutely right absolutely the whole time it’s in action. We can’t even get wearing masks absolutely right.

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And this is the crux. Sports should not be happening in this country for a long damn time. We’re in no way prepared. The virus rages in too much of the country. Sports return isn’t symbolic of our strength or structure. It’s a symbol of how much of both we lack. And how much we don’t even seem to care. Our ability to make or spend money has taken precedence over people getting sick and dying.

It is clear that we don’t want sports to represent our return to something resembling what our lives used to be (but can’t be for a very long time, if at all). We want sports to force us to just assume that’s what happened. They aren’t a symbol of strength and unity. They’re a cudgel.

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We don’t want to give up even going out to eat or going to the gym or just wearing a goddamn mask to CVS. It’s too hard, and we’re too lazy. Send the laborers out to serve, feed, or entertain me. That server, that cashier, that shooting guard, they’re here for me. That’s what sports returning means. That’s what it says about us.

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