The recent novel coronavirus outbreak has had a massive effect on the way we live our lives. It has also dipped its paws into the sports world.
For example, the Ivy League has canceled its postseason basketball tournament this week. Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have all banned clubhouse access in a halfhearted attempt to keep players from becoming infected by media members and vice versa. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department is legally banning all gatherings of 1,000 people or more, which brings several upcoming San Jose Sharks games into question. And here at Fordham, the games will go on without an audience, as Fordham Baseball and Softball will play without fans for the next couple of weeks until the university figures out the next steps. The school’s cancelation of classes inspired exactly the type of self-quarantine the university wanted: students chilling en masse on Edward’s Parade.
Needless to say, we, as a country, are in uncharted territory. While there have been only 27 deaths in the United States (at the time this article is being written), the number of COVID-19 cases is climbing towards 1,000, with areas on the west and east coast being affected. New York City has seen its own effects, with several other schools and universities shuttering day-to-day operations due to the outbreak.
It is important to note that in most cases, coronavirus presents itself the same way a common cold would. However, in older patients or those with respiratory issues, this disease can rapidly progress into something far more sinister and deadly. The other major issue with COVID-19 is that there is no vaccine or known treatment, so a two-week quarantine becomes necessary out of fear for infecting others. All of this is important to understand why sports leagues are reacting the way they are.
Still, this response isn’t making everyone happy.
Fox Sports 1 carnival barker Colin Cowherd, who once suggested that slain Redskins star Sean Taylor’s 2007 murder was due to the safety’s “23 years of bad judgment,” claimed Tuesday that the panic level was too high. While Cowherd is far from alone in this assertion — as many have compared coronavirus to the flu — the mortality rate for COVID-19 is over three times higher than that of the flu. Sports leagues are not taking action out of fear of flu symptoms; they are taking action because our country has not been prepared for this, and if it strikes, it is far more deadly than other more common illnesses.
While we are on the subject, it is understandable for athletes to be frustrated over what has happened in leagues across the country. Lakers forward LeBron James — a frontrunner for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award — has already said he will not play in front of an empty arena. While I don’t think James is serious here and his take may not come to pass, games simply aren’t the same without fans and ambient noise. I’ll be at Fordham Baseball’s game on Wednesday to find out for myself, but I anticipate a truly bizarre experience.
That being said, many of these precautions are necessary. While the temporary media ban likely will not stop the potential spread of infectious disease from coaches or equipment managers to players, it is a measure that can help in the short term and be easily reversed in the long term. Playing games without fans is the same idea; it isn’t ideal, but once the outbreak is contained, like it is starting to be in South Korea and China, fans can once again be allowed in.
However, despite low COVID-19 numbers as of now in the United States, this is a desperate time, and it calls for desperate measures. Even though some of these ideas may be extreme to some — after all, what are my chances of getting this? — they are absolutely necessary. We cannot afford risking public health and the possibility of this becoming a pandemic over a Knicks-Hornets game. Yes, this stinks in the long term, and many are worried over the effects on more major tournaments, including next week’s March Madness. But while COVID-19 wreaks havoc in the short term, leagues are trying to do their part to make sure it doesn’t become a full-blown crisis in the long term. That’s admirable.
So if you aren’t a doctor and you didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn last night, this discussion isn’t for you. Really, it isn’t for me either, other than to say that we should all defer to those smarter than us in these matters. These individuals have mostly come to this consensus: the games as we know them, with fans and handshakes and fist bumps, can wait. And we should be patient with that.