With sports on an indefinite hiatus because of a pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 worldwide, it has never become more clear that our normal sports-driven lives have always been an illusion.
It’s a realization that can be jarring.
But what makes it dangerous, is when government health officials try to feed the illusion.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases — and an otherwise voice of reason on all things pandemic — is now saying that sports leagues could sequester their athletes in order to resume or start seasons.
“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci told Snapchat’s Peter Hamby on Wednesday in one interview of a week-long series. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put (athletes) in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled ... and have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.
“People say, ‘well you can’t play without spectators,’” Fauci said. “Well, I think you’ll probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game. Particularly me. I’m living in Washington — we have the world champion in the Washington Nationals. I want to see them play again.”
Of course, the majority of sports fans want these athletes to play again.
I do, too.
But allowing the thousands of players, coaches and team personnel needed to produce a professional sports league to convene at one venue is an undeniable health risk.
Players with certain immune deficiencies would have to use the same facilities as thousands of individuals from all over the country. Older coaches with pre-existing conditions and complicated health histories will be forced to supervise teams in crowded dugouts and locker rooms, which could easily augment the spread of COVID-19.
But what is probably most concerning about sequestering these sports leagues and allowing them to play, is the message it sends to the American public.
If it’s okay for thousands of league personnel to come together for the sake of sports, then how long would it be before many around the country feel it is okay to host gatherings at their homes to watch these games? Or coordinating recreational games in the park or their backyards or driveways?
And what about the unintended increase in public awareness that sports being canceled and athletes having to be tested for COVID-19 provided? That progress just gets tossed aside?
These are risks that Fauci simply cannot ignore, even if he’s getting pressured by President Trump to change his tune.
Bringing back sports and feeding this illusion of normalcy at a time when things are still far from normal will only increase the probability of spreading the virus.
If the government truly believes it is safe to sequester thousands of individuals in one area and to loosen social-distancing guidelines, then why not continue to implore states to incrementally reopen small businesses like barbershops, hair salons, and other businesses currently deemed “nonessential”?
Allowing these companies to return to “normal” could prove far more beneficial to the United States economy — and all of our psyches — than allowing sporting events to happen in empty stadiums.
But if many states are still saying that it is unsafe to let these individuals at smaller businesses go back to work and provide their important, if not necessary, services, then why would Fauci think sports is ready to return?
It’s little more than a false sense of hope. And it’s flagrantly irresponsible.
Yes, we all want sports to return.
Yes, we all want things back to normal.
But the reality is, we still aren’t ready, and might not be ready for a while. And when we are, let’s do it the right way and in the right order.