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Russian Roulette: Sports Has Lost The Covid-19 Game

“A rash of new coronavirus cases, in a country roiling in pandemic tension and racial strife, is forcing the industry to face what it has resisted: inevitable future outbreaks that demand an immediate shutdown of America’s biggest leagues.”

Jay Mariotti

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It will be OK. Really. Maybe you’ll read some books, buy a mask, pick a fight with Siri, meet a National Guardsman, learn how to rig an election or realize as I have in southern California that skies are blue without snarled freeways, though the ocean remains the color of cannabis. Simply, one’s life needn’t be commandeered by sports.

Having been reminded again that COVID-19 is the real power broker and badass at large — slamming a pandemic-defiant, $200 billion industry with new blasts of infections — sports has reached the point of no return. It’s time to enforce what I’ve written and said since the week Rudy Gobert openly mocked the coronavirus, then succumbed to it.

Sports must shut down. NOW. Because the rush to resume games is starting to resemble a dangerous, irresponsible form of slavery, reflecting what NBA player Justise Winslow wrote on social media and what other athletes surely are feeling: “This s— ain’t even ‘bout basketball or our safety anymore. All About The Benjamins baby. Not sure if they really care if we get corona.” This is no time to make athletes feel like guinea pigs amid a fragile racial climate, only roiled by despicable events in the bosom of Alabama: a noose was found in the Talladega garage of NASCAR’s only black driver, Bubba Wallace, who recently had forced the circuit to ban the Confederate flag. So much for the seemingly meaningful progress during the proud, productive and generally peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, as a hot, turbulent summer awaits a ravaged America.

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Is Winslow wrong, given the riches at stake? Sports should prioritize health over wealth. It must take its ball and go home until the virus, or a far-off vaccine, indicate otherwise. Let the hostile Major League Baseball charlatans rumble in some faraway mud pit and put a bastardized season out of its misery. Let the NBA pop its problematic bubble, allowing players to be with their families and support the BLM mission without distraction. And let the NFL and college football, in a sport that should refer to its line of scrimmage as “the petri dish,’’ heed the wry observation of Rams coach Sean McVay, who points out, “We’re sitting here talking about handless doors. We’re talking about some of this stuff and we’re playing football. I mean, we’re going to social distance, but we play football? Hey, this is really hard for me to understand all this. …. I don’t get it. I really don’t.’’

I never have gotten it, beyond a decades-long realization that sports is filled with alpha egos and megalomaniacal billionaires who’ve never accepted no for an answer but suddenly have no choice. They’ve tried to confront The Beast with protocols, lockdowns, testing quarantines, MagicBands, Trumpian bluster and hollow assurances from health experts, but sports people aren’t much different than legions of COVID-iots who refuse to wear facial coverings because they’re too cool/independent/privileged/healthy/wealthy to get the virus. Guess what? Sports just got the virus in its most sweeping wave of transmissions to date, battered in so many directions that even the most optimistic souls have been jolted toward a grim conclusion.

The year 2020 is gone, the usual asterisk replaced by a saliva droplet.

For those accusing me of gloom-and-dooming, excuse me for thinking about lives lost and weakened instead of your Corona Party. When Jason Barrett graciously asked me to write for his media site, the plan wasn’t to hyper-cover the audacity of leagues trying to buck a killer medical crisis. But this is the biggest game we’ll ever chronicle, even as wishful-thinking sports sites persist with mindless content that pretends the pandemic isn’t happening. I’m a journalist who covered the Bay Area earthquake, 9/11 as it was happening and an international uprising or two along with decades of compelling sports fare — Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, 14 Olympics, 27 Super Bowls and numerous NBA Finals, World Series, Final Fours, golfing majors, everything but the Iditarod. And I’ve always realized sports is inessential compared to life’s landmark stories. So the directive here is simple.

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Stop wishing and start thinking. If positive tests are so widespread now, how many COVID-19 massacres await when training sessions and regular seasons begin? Aren’t outbreaks inevitable no matter how many tests are administered? And if so, why is sports hellbent on jeopardizing the health of athletes, coaches, support staff and their families — and God knows who else? — by force-feeding seasons that shouldn’t be happening anyway? League and broadcast executives who’ve expressed confidence about postseasons being completed, trophies being awarded and even spectators paying for seats are either delusional, delirious or lying out of their asses for ulterior motives such as money, money or, perhaps, money.

Do they actually think 118,000 funerals around the country were fake, that the coronavirus still is no more harmful than the common flu? Do they realize America has devolved into a hopeless, hapless COVID-19 mosh pit, divided in a civil war over a precaution as logical as wearing a mask? Do they know that cases are still surging in record numbers in the U.S. and abroad, thanks to a maskless president who insists the virus will “go away’’ even after six of his staff members tested positive? Do sports people not read the horror stories of survivors who thought they were dying and began pondering, for a few dark moments, if death was the best option? The Beast is laughing, amused that sports assumed it could win this ballgame. And rather than obey the gallant American impulse to never, ever quit, it’s time to pack up the hope chests and run for shelter before a too-desperate-to-be-trusted business adds to the death toll.

“I’m actually of the mind right now: I think this is more like a forest fire,’’ said Dr. Michael Osterholm, a prominent epidemiologist, on NBC’s “Meet The Press’’ program. “I don’t think this is going to slow down. I think that wherever there’s wood to burn, this fire is going to burn out.’’

Sports should dispose of its woodpile. There is no sensible pathway toward completing a season, much less launching one, when a ghostly pathogen lurks around every corner. We cringe upon hearing of even one confirmed case, but consider it a powerful awakening when MLB labor crossfire is halted by a spate of positive tests at team facilities — such as five players and three others with the Philadelphia Phillies — that required a shutdown of all 30 camps in Florida and Arizona. No battalion of Hazmat suits can save baseball when, alarming health issues aside, the owners and players have wasted weeks in negotiation futility. The outbreaks prompted players, the ones taking the health risks, to twice delay votes on MLB’s most recent proposal — a 60-game season — until more COVID-19 data was gathered. Here’s your data: The resumption of any sports season will cause people to get sick, the only question being how many. Seems the virus was tiring of the labor impasse, as well, and when the Phillies released a grim statement, it smacked of looming finality that will damage baseball irreparably if the season isn’t played and 17 months pass without an official major-league game.

Time for John Middleton to close out Bryce Harper – Phillies Nation

“In terms of the implications of this outbreak on the Phillies’ 2020 season,” concluded owner John Middleton, “the club declines comment, believing that it’s too early to know.”

It’s not too early to know that sports cannot go on this way, believing the virus will dutifully surrender when it intends to keep wreaking havoc. Attempting to resume games only will poke The Beast, and such chaos will bring every league, including the NFL behemoth, to its knees. What, every time there’s an outbreak during a season, we’re supposed to treat it like an All-Star break and wait for games to resume? That’s just more of the same fairy-tale nonsense they’ve wanted you to embrace all along. Pandemic fatigue — an easing of social distancing accompanied by the start of summer and reopening of businesses — prompted leagues to sell hope via their obedient blowtorch, ESPN. But over the weekend, the network’s MLB and NBA insiders were somber: The baseball season was in trouble, while a perilous spike in Florida’s positive cases was placing NBA players further in harm’s way as a Wednesday deadline nears on whether they’ll participate in the Disney World pipedream.

Of course, it hardly was coincidence when MLB, the NFL and the NHL were hit hard after a reckless lapse: allowing players to work out without protocols in place. In a week when NFL star Ezekiel Elliott tested positive, your heart sunk when two Tampa Bay Buccaneers players tested positive; hasn’t Tom Brady been working out with teammates? But pro athletes can use unions to reject seasons. College football players, who aren’t paid or represented by unions, are raw meat to universities, conferences and TV networks trying to protect $4 billion in jeopardized riches.

We have no idea how campus life will look starting in August, yet that isn’t stopping the purportedly high-minded leaders of American academia from selling out to football riches. It’s a gimme-mine mentality reflected by a rube coach, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, who since has been exposed for racist leanings and was called out by his best player, Chuba Hubbard, for wearing a shirt with the logo of right-wing news network One America News. Said Gundy, not long ago, in what sounds abusive, exploitative and quite telling in the current racial climate: “In my opinion, we need to bring our players back. They are 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22-years old and they are healthy and they have the ability to fight this virus off. If that is true, then we sequester them, and continue because we need to run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Video: Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy apologizes for ...

Not sure how Gundy still has his job. But they also want to run that money through football factory Clemson, where 23 football players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. And Texas, where 13 players tested positive. And LSU, where more than 30 players were placed in quarantine to slow the spread. At least Kansas State, after 14 athletes tested positive, suspended all football workouts for two weeks, joining Houston in hitting pause. Ohio State, Indiana, Baylor, Missouri and SMU, among others, want athletes to sign waiver forms acknowledging risk, freeing universities of liability as they pocket TV windfalls. 

Then there’s golf, a social-distance-friendly sport that still can’t get out of its way. Nick Watney, a five-time PGA Tour winner, tested positive Friday and withdrew from the RBC Heritage event at Hilton Head — after testing negative when he arrived at the tournament, meaning he likely contracted the virus at the site. If that isn’t spooky, mind explaining why Watney was allowed to wait for his test result at the driving range, as Brooks Koepka and others stood nearby? Said Rory McIlroy: “If you contract it, that’s fine, but then it’s who have you come into contact with and who you might have exposed. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic.’’

If only everyone in sports understood that. By now, after 2.3 million confirmed cases and almost 120,000 deaths in the U.S., the enormity and persistence of The Beast should mortify everyone. Yet there was insider Brian Windhorst on ESPN, saying the NBA was undaunted by Florida’s virus outbreaks because the bubble plan is “too big to fail.’’

Yeah, too big to fail.

Please rescue these madmen from themselves. Before someone dies.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

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