Bernstein: Close Off Sports For A While

It's this simple: Stop bringing people together until it's safe again to do so.

Dan Bernstein
March 11, 2020 - 2:27 pm
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(670 The Score) ​​​If it hasn't hit home directly for you yet, give it a few minutes. The coronavirus pandemic -- just declared as such by the World Health Organization -- is here for us whether we want to accept it or not.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The 79-year-old Fauci has advised six presidents on global health issues, and his appearance before a congressional committee Wednesday provided the most honest warnings yet about the threat we face. He was asked directly about how sports teams and leagues are reacting and confirmed what just seems like common sense: We have to stop allowing people to gather to watch games until it is in the best interests of public health to do so.

That means immediately and across the board.

"We would recommend that there not be large crowds," Fauci testified in response to a direct question regarding the cancellation of the Ivy League basketball tournament and the current deliberations within the NBA. "If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it. But as a public health official, anything that has crowds is something that would give a risk to spread."

Anything that has crowds. That's all the sports. Listen to the expert.

Asian countries are already on the other side of the peak of their respective outbreaks, in large part due to sweeping and severe disruptions to daily life in an effort to slow contagion. Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league has postponed the start of its regular season indefinitely, as has the Korean Baseball Organization. Italy's number of cases has yet to peak, and their Serie A football league is also postponed until further notice.

MLB should be considering an Opening Day delay and at the very minimum barring fans from spring training games right now. Commissioner Rob Manfred is instead floating a myopic plan of moving games to neutral sites in less-affected cities, apparently not understanding that all of those cities are likely just asymptomatic, ready to evince sickness like everywhere else.

The Golden State Warriors have banned fans from their home game Thursday, as other teams wait for guidance from commissioner Adam Silver on how to proceed. Bet on either a league directive for empty arenas or most teams making that correct call. The XFL's Seattle Dragons just announced they will play in an empty stadium, and the NHL shouldn't be gathering people together right now either.

The NCAA Tournament is another matter altogether, considering the size and scope of that many buildings, all the teams and all the lodging in the host cities. It's all a bad idea, regardless of the billions of dollars at stake. It is, in fact, the opposite of what Dr. Fauci is telling us to do to keep people from getting coronavirus. The First Four is scheduled to be played in Dayton, and Ohio plans to ban all mass gatherings, Gov. Mike DeWine has said. Postpone the NCAA Tournament or cancel it.

Global health matters more than sports, particularly our societal responsibility to protect those most vulnerable to this illness -- the elderly and immunocompromised and those with any impairments to pulmonary or respiratory function.  

It's all too common for major -- often tragic -- news events to make sports-obsessed dullards invoke "perspective," indicating an embarrassing absence of it before people get hurt, sick or killed. The stories become just another maudlin way for teams and leagues to wrap themselves in something resembling actual human feeling, when it is actually just being twisted into another grotesque and cynical tool for marketing and branding. They count on compliance from dimwitted media members programmed to gush "This game has to be played for the community to begin to heal" and "It's is what's so great about sports -- it brings people together."

Now is the time to understand before the fact, to keep this all from getting much worse. Heed the expert. Stop bringing people together until it's safe again to do so.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.