Sports in a pandemic

Yes, I’m a sports fan. Yes, I’m a former sports broadcaster and producer. Yes, I think sports does more good than harm.

And so although it pains me to AGAIN have to make this argument, I will: Right now, there ought to be no competitive sports at the high school or college level. A pandemic rages on, and the potential to harm innocent people is simply too high.

The argument that “the pros are playing so it must be safe” fails to consider multiple important points:

  1. Professional athletes are just that — professional athletes. They have chosen to make baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer (among other sports) their job. Yes, they may opt out of playing, and a fair number have, but they remain professional athletes.
  2. College and high school athletes are amateurs, although I admit that term means something much different today than a did even a couple of decades ago. They are students; their primary job is to graduate. (And at the college level, those graduation numbers too often are atrocious, but we won’t dive into that controversy here.) Sports is a form of recreation for them, no matter how hard they compete.
  3. Professional teams can wall themselves off in a bubble that significantly reduces their contact with other people, and therefore lowers the athletes’ chances of catching or spreading coronavirus. The success of Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League serve as important examples of why the bubble system is the only way to conduct pro sports right now. The corresponding disaster that has been Major League Baseball, which rejected the bubble plan, further illustrates this bubble necessity.
  4. College and high school athletes cannot be separated from their fellow students; they cannot live in a bubble. They must interact daily with hundreds or thousands of their fellow students — inside a classroom, walking a hallway, in a cafeteria, informal contact — and all of these situations guarantee the athlete is at higher risk of then transferring the virus to their fellow players, their coaches and their opponents during practices or games.
  5. You cannot have social distancing in team sports. Not much more needs to be discussed here; that six feet of space between Person A and Person B won’t happen on a practice field or during a game.
  6. College and high school leaders have set aside thousands upon thousands of dollars to ensure the academic buildings and other facilities on their campuses can be regularly cleaned to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. These are dollars wisely spent because the primary mission of a college or high school is to educate students, not offer sports. Yes, extracurricular opportunities are important to the college or high school experience. But they are not required of any student in order to graduate. Spending money to ensure those facilities also are clean is, frankly, a frivolous expense in a time of crisis.

Common sense is desperately needed right now, and that need is highlighted because of the horrible absence of leadership from the Trump administration in helping Americans get through this pandemic. Common sense demands that we scale back on everything that’s not an absolute essential feature of the college or high school experience.

Sorry, folks, but your son or daughter playing sports is not — and never will be — a mandatory part of their education. Lest you think I’m picking on the athletes, the “nope” argument also applies to your children in the band, the theater, and so on.

Let the kids play?

N-O, no.

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