Look, it’s just not working out.
It’s clear now that we tried to get back together too soon. Although it would be easy to continue in denial — after all, love is blind — the timing just isn’t right.
Sports, I say this with love: We need another break. Not a breakup. Just a break.
The evidence is obvious and abundant, and it needs to be confronted, especially when it comes to college athletics where safety plans appear especially precarious.
At the start of the pandemic in March, sports leagues were willing to shut down play as a precaution. Without a single positive COVID-19 case following one positive case in the NBA, colleges said the health and safety of student-athletes was guiding their priorities.
So what has changed? Four months later, more known cases than ever exist among athletes. Yet decision makers are moving into “Phase Play Ball!”
Logistically and morally, it just doesn’t make sense. Of course, that means money is at the heart of these decisions.
More than 50 colleges have reported positive tests among athletes. Some schools have reported a dozen or more. And keep in mind, many schools are not releasing positive test numbers to the public.
Thirty-seven Clemson football players — more than 30% of the roster — had tested positive as of June 26, according to USA Today. At least 30 LSU players and staff were quarantined after several positive tests.
And that’s with the most careful research-based precautions in place. That’s with limited groups of players simply lifting weights in the same room. What happens when other students return to campus? When classes resume? When they start tackling each other?
“How are we going to practice? How are we going to play? Nobody knows. It’s up in the air,” Illinois linebacker Milo Eifler told reporters Wednesday. “We’re anxious to get out there. We’re not necessarily feeling pressure from the coaches or fans. It’s a concern for our safety.”
USC announced Thursday that it’s canceling most in-person classes for the fall semester. Will football continue?
How can a school say its campus is too risky for the overall student population but encourage athletes to return to generate finances? It’s already occurring as athletes have made their way back to campus for workouts even though many in-person summer courses were deemed a health risk.
In May, Illinois faculty said they opposed reopening campus for in-person fall classes. In a statement on its website, UIUC’s Campus Faculty Association said “adequate protection on a residential campus the breadth and size of ours is nearly impossible.”
Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe joined a growing chorus of college football players voicing concerns about returning to campus for voluntary workouts and the lack of NCAA oversight.
“There needs to be an NCAA Players Association!” he tweeted Friday night. “We have absolutely no representation when it comes to decision making”
Earlier in the week, a team spokesman said coach Lovie Smith and athletic director Josh Whitman were caught off guard when linebacker Milo Eifler expressed similar worries.
“I understand that people want to see us play this season but in reality how can a team full of 100+ student athletes fully function during a pandemic,” Eifler tweeted. “Trust, my teammates and I want to play. But schools around the country are showing blatant disregard for student athletes.”
Administrators seem resistant to the idea of moving football to the spring because of scheduling conflicts. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour told reporters it could be a “last resort” option.
“I’m concerned about what seems to be inadequate testing and contact tracing across the board,” said Kathleen Bachynski, an assistant professor of public health at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. “If professional leagues are struggling with lower case counts and (with more abundant resources), it’s really hard to see how college campuses are going to be able to do this.”
Sheldon Jacobson, an Illinois computer science professor, told CBS Sports he expects a 30% to 50% infection rate among FBS football players this fall with three to seven deaths due to COVID-19.
Pac-12 administrators and coaches pondered the benefits of herd immunity during a recent conference call, Yahoo Sports reported. Some sports radio hosts have wondered about a competitive advantage to players being infected in the summer rather than the fall.
If it wasn’t clear before that unpaid college athletes are pawns, it should be now.
Readers have emailed me downplaying the potential tragedy of athletes dying from COVID-19 versus the national enjoyment derived from watching them compete.
And here I used to find it unfathomable how spectators enjoyed sacrifices at the Roman Colosseum.
Professional athletes could be taking on unnecessary risks too.
As of Thursday, 25 NBA players had tested positive before play is scheduled to resume July 30 in Florida — where cases are spiking. Even with the league’s resources, isolated bubble plan and daily testing, it’s important to note tests don’t always show immediate results either. And several players have decided to opt out in the name of personal and family safety.
Major League Baseball announced 31 positive cases Friday in the first rounds of tests from 19 out of 30 teams as the sport prepares to resume a shortened season on July 23.
Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija took a shot at team owners when he was asked about fans attending games.
“I wouldn’t put the carriage before the horse,” he said to reporters. “I think we’ve seen from the owners they’re not afraid to put anyone at risk, especially if it makes them money.”
The Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League provided a cautionary tale about human error and faulty testing.
Six players and four staff members tested positive after reports indicated many were together at a Florida bar. The Pride withdrew from the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, even after the team said there was some inconsistent testing.
Americans are exhausted by social deprivation and economic hardships. Resuming sports is a cultural signifier that life is back to normal again.
But it’s not. The pandemic hasn’t gone away, and outbreaks are surging across the nation.
Every option seems to have been explored — except the safest one: Hold off on playing.
Much is unknown about the long-term effects of the coronavirus, even on young, healthy athletes in their prime. Bringing back sports is a guessing game, even for experts.
“There are a ton of blind spots,” said Dr. Brian Cole, the team physician for the Bulls and White Sox and a sports medicine surgeon at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush University Medical Center.
But some things are right in front of our faces.
Insisting that sports continue now is illogical. We have the evidence. The return isn’t working.
It’s time to admit it: This break needs to last longer.
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