Remember back at the beginning of March, when officials in California said sporting events and other large gatherings should be called off, but the San Jose Sharks went ahead and played three home games anyway?
As of March 8, the date of the last of those home games, there were 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County. A week later, there were 255, although at that point, there were still fewer than 200 tests being done per day in the county. The sixth-most populous county in California, Santa Clara County now ranks fourth in total coronavirus cases, with the highest caseload in the northern half of the state.
Has the NHL learned a lesson from this, that the virus is serious stuff, that there’s an especially tricky incubation period, that it can spread even among the young and healthy, that the more people are around each other, the more people get the virus?
Of course the NHL hasn’t learned a lesson. The league is continuing to push to figure out a way to finish its season, or at the very least stage a made-for-TV playoff. The biggest question is, even if you somehow manage to find a place dumb enough to put its citizens’ health at risk by allowing the frivolity of hockey this summer (Dallas is reportedly a possibility, just like for baseball, because Texas is run by idiots). What happens if someone tests positive for the virus?
“Everything depends on the facts and the entire set of circumstances,” NHL deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Ryan Rishaug of TSN. “But no, we do not believe that one positive test, even multiple positive tests, wouldn’t necessarily shut the whole thing down.”
This is the same Daly, along with his boss Gary Bettman, who has done nothing to get fighting out of his league, despite being well aware of the links between fighting and concussions, and between concussions and long-term physical and mental health issues.
The NHL not caring about its players’ health is nothing new. Oh, you’ve got a potentially deadly and highly contagious virus attacking your lungs? That’s just an upper body injury, gotta suck it up, this is playoff time. If the NHLPA were to go along with this, it would be a stunning act of incompetence by Donald Fehr, who over his career has been quite willing to advise players not to play if it wasn’t in their best interest in the big picture, and said this week that he hasn’t even discussed any of this with the league yet.
What’s striking about this is Daly’s blinding ignorance of what he’s saying. Say, for instance, Alex Ovechkin tests positive. Now you’re wondering about all of the players on the Capitals and anyone who’s been in contact with them, from hotel workers to security guards to locker room attendants. It might be days before anyone else who was in contact with Ovechkin comes back with a positive test, and if the Capitals are playing games in the meantime, all of their opponents — and everyone coming into contact with players from those teams — is at risk, too.
Daly’s comments, ridiculous on their face, are negligent and borderline sociopathic when given the slightest bit of thought. This is the league that was willing to cancel an entire season in a labor dispute, then come back at the end of the next collective bargaining agreement and lock players out again for another half a season… but in order to recoup a small chunk of this year’s revenues, they’ll risk the health of not only the players, but everyone working to make their summer ice fantasy a reality?
They would, and that’s why the end of the TSN story about Daly’s comments is important. “The city of Edmonton was discussed as a possible destination. Later that day, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced a recommendation to prohibit gatherings of more than 15 people to all events and festivals through to the end of summer.”
Pittsburgh also was mentioned as a candidate city, but the mayor there, Bill Peduto, was not striking a tone of openness to such ideas when he tweeted on Friday that, “Decision making must be made on data and reason, not emotion and fear,” a criticism of the situation in Atlanta after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s move to “reopen — without additional testing, without additional tracking, without data based evidence or any evidence of predictive analytic forecasting.”
To get back to playing, with a willingness to keep on going even with positive tests, the NHL will have to find a municipality as callous and careless as Daly seems to be. Maybe that’s Texas, where local officials in cities such as San Antonio are rightfully worried that dingbat governor Greg Abbott is about to make things much worse.
The problem for the NHL is that places like Texas and Georgia that are run with utter disregard for such issues as whether citizens live or die is that by the time they’d be able to start playing hockey, those places will be experiencing the consequences of the bad decisions being made now.
Of course, consequences for bad decisions would be a new concept to the NHL, which goes a long way to explaining why a league with glacial revenue growth over the past decade and a half when compared to the NBA and other major sports has the same leaders after all this time, people willing to go in public and tell the world that they don’t think multiple players testing positive for coronavirus would be enough to stop the charade of finishing the 2019-20 season.