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I Want Sports Back As Much As Anyone. But Not Until There's A Vaccine

Gov. Gavin Newsom, front left, accompanied by Jason Kenney, front right, deputy director of the Real Estate Services Division of the Department of General Services, tours Sleep Train Arena, the former home of the NBA's Sacramento Kings basketball team in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 6, 2020. The arena is being transformed into a 400-bed emergency field hospital to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Gov. Gavin Newsom, front left, accompanied by Jason Kenney, front right, deputy director of the Real Estate Services Division of the Department of General Services, tours Sleep Train Arena, the former home of the NBA's Sacramento Kings basketball team in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 6, 2020. The arena is being transformed into a 400-bed emergency field hospital to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

The United States Golf Association, which once in a while gets things right, is batting .500 for the week. The organization canceled two of its annual events, the 2020 U.S. Senior Open and the 2020 U.S. Senior Women’s Open. In a remarkable example of clear-eyed thinking – some would say unusual – the USGA said it was “a difficult decision” but that given the “ongoing health and safety issues” the axe had to fall on the two events.

The USGA did not do the same thing with its two professional marquee events, the US Open and the US Women’s Open. Those two events were moved to the fall. The US Women’s Open was rescheduled to December – in Houston. The US Open was moved to September. Good luck with that.

The USGA said it would “continue to rely on CDC and WHO recommendations in determining schedule considerations for the remaining eight 2020 amateur championships.”

Eight? Let me help you here guys. Cancel them all. Now.

Re-open the arenas? Nope. Re-open the stadiums? Nope. Re-open the golf courses, NASCAR tracks and other sporting venues? Nope.

While we’re at it, let’s not single out the USGA. Its counterpart across the pond, the R & A, canceled the 2020 British Open. Due to weather and darkness issues, the R & A really had no choice. But it pulled the plug.

So should everyone else in sports – for at least the rest of the year. Maybe longer. Until you can guarantee the safety of spectators and players alike, it’s just not worth it.

I understand the reticence and reluctance of leagues to act, although the NBA and the NHL should just call off the 2019-20 season due to pandemic interference. It’s April. But sports and other public events rely not just on their performers. They rely on their fans. It would be inconceivable to have one without the other, even in these ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ times.

President Trump took time out from his daily misinformation sessions to arrange a conference call with officials and commissioners from the major sports last weekend. He said he wanted to see “fans back in the arena.’’ He added, “I can’t tell you a date, but I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”

Like pretty much everything Trump says at these briefings, the remarks were an example of wishful thinking coupled with scientific cluelessness.

I want sports back as much as anyone. As I write this, I am looking at an autographed picture of the flying Bobby Orr scoring the overtime goal that gave the Boston Bruins the 1970 Stanley Cup. I was a sportswriter my entire professional life. I miss the games, particularly the Stanley Cup playoffs. I will miss the Masters this weekend.

But, as is usually the case these days, we should listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci, not our hearts, before we open even one professional sports venue to fans.

“If ‘back to normal’ means acting like there never was a coronavirus problem, I don’t think that’s going to happen until we do have a situation where you can completely protect the population, Fauci said.

Those last four words ring truer than ever. What he’s saying is we can’t do any of these public events – sports, music, theater – until we can guarantee the safety of everyone in attendance.

And that won’t happen until we get a vaccine. Which, according to Fauci, may be a year or more away. And which, if you connect the dots, means that there should be no sports until there is one.

“When we get back to normal, we will go back gradually to the point where we can function as a society,” Fauci said.

And that won’t be until everyone can get vaccinated. Otherwise, why on earth would any thinking individual attend a game knowing there was a chance of infection? And even if you play games without fans, as has been suggested, who is to say that the athletes, officials and others deemed necessary to be in attendance won’t come down the virus?

Palettes of N95 respirator masks are off-loaded from the New England Patriots football team's customized Boeing 767 jet on the tarmac, Thursday, April 2, 2020, at Boston Logan International Airport in Boston, after returning from China. The Kraft family deployed the Patriots' team plane to China to fetch more than 1 million masks for use by front-line health care workers to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. (Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool)
Palettes of N95 respirator masks are off-loaded from the New England Patriots football team's customized Boeing 767 jet on the tarmac, Thursday, April 2, 2020, at Boston Logan International Airport in Boston, after returning from China. The Kraft family deployed the Patriots' team plane to China to fetch more than 1 million masks for use by front-line health care workers to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. (Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool)

Of course, there are plenty of unthinking individuals out there, ranging from the Ohio woman who says she is protected from the virus because she has Jesus’ blood on her face to the so-called ‘Liberty Rebellion’ in Idaho, which wants to hold Easter services for as many as 1,000 people. (What are these people thinking?)

And can you imagine what postponing the 2020 college football season would do in the South?

Yes, there is a lot of money involved between leagues and rights fees and programming issues and salaries for players and costumes for the band and cheerleaders. But this is a public health emergency with an unknown expiration date. Asymptomatic people can carry and transmit the virus unknowingly. We still don’t know if you can get the virus a second time. What we don’t know is staggering but we do know this much – it makes zero sense to congregate in public to watch anything unless you have been vaccinated.

Re-open the arenas? Nope. Re-open the stadiums? Nope. Re-open the golf courses, NASCAR tracks and other sporting venues? Nope.

I’ll wait for the vaccine. So should everyone else.

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Peter May Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Peter May was a sports writer at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades. He now teaches journalism at Brandeis University and is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

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