Distant Game Days

Mark Cuban, business leader and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, says the coronavirus pandemic is going to spawn new companies that will do great things in the years ahead.

Let’s hope for the sake of sports fans one of them produces home version hazmat suits, suitable for people to wear around town – and to the game. Something casual, stylish and eye-catching for those sitting in the courtside seats.

Photo by Marc Serota

Might sound ridiculous, but you can bet it’s coming. We’ll see people in full anti-viral casual wear as soon as it’s marketed. It’s not like there won’t be other viruses.

Or you can decide to go to the game, trusting that all around you don’t have the virus, that no one is asymptomatic. No thanks.

If sports are ever going to be the same, it’s not going to be soon and it won’t be in 2020. And while there has been much discussion about sports relaunching “with or without fans,” most fans I’ve talked to already have decided it will be without them.

It’s showing up in national surveys, too. A poll released last week by Seton Hall University Sports Poll found that 72 percent of Americans say they will not attend a sporting event until a vaccine is found.

Even when pollsters focused only on devoted U.S. sports fans, that number was still 61 percent.

Just Saying No

Those are landslide numbers that mean a couple of things: People are very concerned about this virus and they don’t have confidence that sporting events – or concerts, art festivals, theaters etc. – will be safe places.

Another case of the people being ahead of the government. All the talk about reopening the economy and things being back to normal by July or August is not persuading Americans, who seem to have learned the tragic way that listening to medical experts is smarter than putting faith in politicians.

A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine that NFL games could be played with large numbers of fans opting to stay home. Now it’s hard to imagine many would go. TV is a lot safer.

Consider a realistic hypothetical: Let’s say the massive social distancing going on in the United States continues to work and flattens the curve. People come back out, the economy reopens, everyone drops their guard and what happens? The number of new cases begins to rise again. And then we hit Fall, when experts already are saying the virus will return (actually, it won’t have left) and that happens just as football season is underway.

I’m not seeing much of a window for sports to be played with large crowds gathered. It could all get shut down again.

No Fans, No Fun

The option of sporting events with no fans sounds austere and unfulfilling. The whole concept of professional sports is built on athletes getting paid to play in front of fans. Fans make the games a whole lot more interesting, more of a dramatic shared experience even for those not at the game. How much will I watch if there are no fans? I will definitely check it out, but it won’t be the same. And I can easily imagine finding better things to do with my time.

Indeed, the number of Moms and Dads I’ve seen out with their children on family outings during pandemic weekends is one of the few bright spots I can recall over the past month. Perhaps this crisis brings us to a crossroads, a reset button on what’s important in life and what we can do without.

The only people who will be able to attend games this year and feel safe will be those who were infected with the virus and recovered. Maybe there’s enough people out there who have antibodies and need tickets.

Or maybe seating will be changed so there’s 6 feet between every fan, in every direction. They can lower bubbles over each fan. Or standard issue gloves, mask and shield. Might work on a golf course or the route of a marathon, but not in a stadium or arena.

Or wait for a vaccine, which is what I’ll be doing, along with most Americans. Unless you get me that casual hazmat suit. We can call it the Cas-Haz. Something from the Michael Kors collection.

Drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know your thoughts on sports and the pandemic, and what you think pro sports leagues should do this year.

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About The Author
David Meeks
David Meeks
David Meeks has never hesitated to speak truth to power. He’s uncovered shady coal mine operators in Alabama, corrupt politicians in Louisiana and supported single fathers in Florida. When New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Meeks, then Sports Editor of The Times-Picayune, refused an evacuation order. He commandeered a newspaper truck, assembled a team of journalists and won two Pulitzer Prizes. He has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and was the Managing Editor of USA Today Sports. He is Alabama-born and Michigan-raised, and today lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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