Have you ever tried to hit a moving target?
Not easy, is it?
You think you’ve got things lined up and you’re ready to take your shot. Then everything changes and you find yourself recalibrating.
That’s the dilemma the professional sports leagues and college athletics face as they try to start or restart their seasons amid a pandemic. Just when the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball think they have everything figured out, the coronavirus throws a monkey wrench into the plans and it’s back to the drawing board.
Imagine the frustration for everyone involved — players, owners, commissioners, college presidents, athletic directors, student-athletes. It’s like a world-wide game of Whack-A-Mole where you’re constantly flailing with the mallet only to have the mole pop up somewhere else.
Even the sports that have already started up — soccer, golf, NASCAR, boxing, the UFC and tennis — have been impacted with COVID-19 positives, forcing various competitors, trainers and others to the sidelines and into quarantine.
These aren’t senior citizens in nursing homes who are getting sick. They are people in their 20s and 30s who were supposed to be the least vulnerable. The NBA recently reported that 16 of 305 athletes tested came back positive. Every day, we hear that this athlete or that trainer or a caddie has tested positive.
It is now July. We are nearly four months into the shutdown of major league professional sports in this country. The “Return to Play” plans of the leagues continues to be tinkered with and adjusted. The anxiety level among the athletes remains high. Some are still willing to play. Others are vacillating whether or not it’s worth it to go back to work. Still others have opted out altogether.
Every single pro sports league and college conference says the same thing — “Safety first.” We hear about deep cleaning, social distancing, “Bubbles,” “Hub Cities” and limited access. Too bad the coronavirus isn’t cooperating.
We’re still seeing outbreaks at athletic training facilities, positive tests from players, coaches and staff members. And while we’re fortunate that no one who plays hockey, basketball, baseball or football has died yet, the fear of it happening isn’t far from the minds of those who plan to participate.
So is all of this worth it? I have read opinions in the sports world that maybe this is too ambitious an undertaking given the times we live in and that we should keep our finger on the pause button for the immediate future or until there’s a vaccine that is proven to be effective.
I go back and forth on the notion to shut it down. One day, I think it is the prudent thing to do. The next, I trust the sports leagues to do the right thing by their players. The economics are what is driving this. The NBA, NHL and MLB are going to lose billions no matter what. Teams in all those sports have been furloughing or laying off employees.
I’m not in Bill Foley’s shoes. The owner of the Vegas Golden Knights has a team that is in position to win the Stanley Cup in only its third season of existence. He’s going to lose money whether his team skates or doesn’t. But he’s also a smart guy. He doesn’t want to pay too high a price to potentially get his name on the Cup. He wants to keep his employees and their families safe. If he can find a way to get his team on the ice and mitigate the risk of infection, he’s going to do it.
Same for Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders. This is a huge year for his franchise. It’s their first season in Las Vegas playing in the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium. The team just moved into its new headquarters in Henderson. The last thing he wants is to see the NFL season be canceled.
But Davis also wants his employees to be safe and healthy. Like Foley and the NHL, Davis is part of a greater good as one of 32 NFL owners. He has to trust the medical experts who advise Roger Goodell that everyone who wears the Silver and Black will be protected as best as possible.
We have no idea if any of these proposals to return to play will work. Maybe the NHL’s plan works and MLB’s doesn’t. NBA commissioner Adam Silver warns that if there’s a major outbreak inside the Orlando bubble the league may not have a choice but to shut it down.
I guess we’ll see. My suggestion to the commissioners of the four major pro sports find an extra mallet to play Whack-A-Mole with because one apparently isn’t enough.