Dave Hyde: Sports, not as diversion, but a reminder of our new world

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Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Saturday’s scoreboard reads three Miami Heat players have now tested positive for the Coronavirus and four Miami Marlins player have.

That’s the analytics of sports that matter now. No one’s even pretending sports return to America as the diversion they typically are in times of crisis. They’re simply another reminder of the world in which we now live.

It’s not just the “bubble” some sports will enter to play or the missing fabric of fans at games. It’s the emerging questions as the virus continues to grow in the United States in a manner it doesn’t in Europe.

With aging NBA coaches declining to go to Orlando for the re-start, does the Heat’s 75-year-old Pat Riley even go and risk getting COVID-19? (I hope not.)

With the NFL training camp in sight, is the proposed 70 players really that much healthier than 90 players, as being proposed? Or two preseason games compared to four?

And what is college football doing? One college official in South Florida asked recently why the NCAA is even allowing players return to campuses not deemed healthy enough for students. How, the question went, can coaches keep them safe when schools can’t because society can’t?

Kevin O’Neill, who retired this week as Florida International University’s trainer, spelled out that idea further. Twelve FIU football players tested positive for COVID-19, he said. They were put into apartments and told to remain isolated for 48 hours as re-tests were done. If needed, they’d then have a 14-day quarantine. A sound plan, right?

Seven of the players didn’t remain isolated. They mixed it up with people. Therein is the problem beyond the pandemic. How do you get a 19-year-old to be socially responsible in a society where even President Donald Trump doesn’t feel the need to wear a mask for safety?

The prevailing emotion right now isn’t optimism at the re-start of sports. It’s uncertainty they can pull it off. Hope, sure. But uncertainty.

Here’s the good news: It’s working in European soccer. The English Premier League, for example, returned three weeks ago and has functioned without any major crisis. Its teams travel from city to city, as baseball will. No fans are at games and the games go on fine.

But of 2,250 players and staff tested last week by the Premier League, only one person tested positive. One. That brings the total to 19 players since training resumed on May 19. And there underlies the prime problem in American sports.

In England, 544 people tested positive on Friday. In the United States, there were 53,301 positive tests on Friday. Sure, we’re exponentially bigger than England. But while the number of England’s positive tests keeps lowering, ours keeps increasing. As is our chaos. There’s no agreement now on how to battle the virus. It’s city by city, state by state while the federal government watches.

Meanwhile, sports leagues aren’t even trying to spin the return of games as some great diversion. From baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent in re-starting after the San Francisco earthquake to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue after 9-11, a healthy diversion was often cited as a reason to return.

The anecdote often used was Winston Churchill keeping the movie theaters open during the bombing of London during World War II.

You don’t hear that now. You hear the financial need for the leagues or schools to go on. You also hear some players wanting to play while weighing real-life concerns like a pregnant wife.

“Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable,” said baseball’s best player, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. “Obviously with the baby coming there’s a lot of stuff going through my mind right now, my wife’s mind and my family. Just trying to (find) the safest and most cautious way to get through a season.”

He talked to reporters on Zoom. As have all the Marlins, Dolphins, Heat, Panthers and others. Another slice of the new normal. The games will try to go on. And the hope is they can. But there’s no pretense they’re a diversion as in other tough times. They’re simply be more proof of the odd time we live.

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©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)