While it surely is a sign of something broken in our society that NBA teams like the Brooklyn Nets and celebrities are able to be tested for coronavirus, even when showing no symptoms, while much of the general public cannot get access to testing, the problem to focus on is much more the latter than the former.
The tests that have happened and are happening are a good thing. On Wednesday, callers to a telephone town hall held by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) were saying things like, “I don’t understand why there’s such a panic.” It makes sense that people might be confused when just a couple of days earlier, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt were tweeting about going out to restaurants, not calling for social distancing to try to contain the virus.
So, it’s good that Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell can get tested, have it come back positive even though he’s asymptomatic, and then go on “Good Morning America” to alert the world to the dangerous and terrifying truth about coronavirus:
“I can walk down the street; if it wasn’t public knowledge that I was sick, you wouldn’t know it,” Mitchell said. “That’s the scariest part about the virus, is that you may seem fine, be fine, and you may never know who you may be talking to, and who they’re going home to.”
It was Mitchell’s teammate, Rudy Gobert, who was largely responsible for getting the sports world to shut down, with the rest of life as we’ve known it quickly following. That it happened because Gobert was a world-class idiot is far less important than the fact that it did happen, Remember, just a week ago, teams were fretting about the possibility of playing games in empty arenas and what that would mean.
What it would have meant was the virus spreading even more. We now know that an Ottawa Senators player tested positive for coronavirus. An Arizona-based employee of the Cincinnati Reds has, too. So have two Yankees minor leaguers. If NBA and NHL teams had kept traveling, even if there weren’t fans in the arenas, how many more people would that player have come into contact with? How many teammates and opponents would have gotten the virus, too? How far would they have spread it, criss-crossing North America? How many fans who went to spring training might have gone home to their own communities as carriers of coronavirus?
The fact that tests are being administered throughout the sports world, while ordinary folks can only wonder whether they’re coughing because of seasonal allergies or coronavirus, is wrong. But just as it took a positive case with an athlete to get the United States to get serious about the need to stop doing business as usual, it may take sports showing how quickly and widely the virus and spread to spur testing to become more widely available, and for those in power to take further action.
Even as news of these positive tests continued to surface, and even after the scenes of large crowds at Clearwater Beach in Florida left observers agog, there were people like Clearwater city council member David Albritton saying, “I hate to jump on something without all the facts. The beaches are a big economic driver for us. Instead of jumping out there, see what happens in the next week or so. Following that, see what happens.”
What happens is more people getting infected and more people dying. That’s something you would hope an elected official would understand. But as more news breaks from sports, more of that elected official’s constituents will understand, and apply pressure to do the right thing.
It shouldn’t all have to be as stupid as a virus-riddled NBA player pawing at a table of microphones or the availability of tests highlighting societal inequity, but that’s how it is. It’s good that pro athletes and team employees are getting tested. Here’s hoping that helps the rest of us to get tested soon, too.