A Different Goal Line

What will professional sports look like in this new world?

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the
outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.

 

The excitement of football is already in the air. With major sports shut down since April due to COVID-19, fans are looking for some sense of a return to normalcy. But this season will be anything but normal.

With tens of thousands of Americans having lost their lives because of this disease, concerns of continued outbreaks are serious
and valid and are being balanced against the financial impact the virus is having at all levels of athletics. To limit its spread, some
leagues are, or are planning on, resuming play with safety protocols in place. Still, there are concerns about the virus’ potential
impact on resuming sports.

In late May, Peter King, author of NBCSports.com’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, interviewed Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — the nation’s point person on infectious diseases.

King asked Fauci about the potential for players testing positive during the season. Before King could finish his question, Fauci
pounced: “You got a problem there…Once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got
a real problem. You gotta shut it down.”

“Shut it down,” King wrote. “Quarantine the team, he means. For 14 days. The next two games for that team? Cancelled or postponed. That could be life in the NFL in 2020.”

While a team potentially shutting down for two weeks would be unprecedented, there is the potential that with appropriate
testing, infected players could be quarantined while the team continues to play. The sidelining of a star player, two, or more could have a catastrophic impact on a team competing for playoff positioning.

While King was reporting on NFL football, every sports league is facing this, and many more potential issues in returning to action.

As economics are a major component of professional and amateur sports, leagues obviously want to return to action. With no live
games, there is no income from ticket sales, television broadcasts and commercials, and concessions. While league commissioners
and team owners no doubt want to see full stadiums and arenas, there are numerous health concerns hanging in the balance.

Some games will be delayed. Some may be played without fans in the stands. Some, including Fauci, say games may eventually
be played with a limited number of fans to accommodate social distancing. But this raises several potential problems. First, if
crowds are limited, how will franchises select who gets a ticket to get inside? How will social distancing be practiced in normally
crowded corridors and entry, food and bathroom lines? If fans are present, protective masks make sense. However, enforcing face
coverings has, unfortunately and embarrassingly, proven to be fatal in some situations. Could alcohol add to volatility?

The hope is that in the time before football kicks off, medical experts around the world may make scientific advancements in
combatting the virus, which will help make games as safe as possible for players, coaches and spectators.

With the economic impact COVID-19 has already had, professional and collegiate sports cities are also looking longingly to
a financial boon of full hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions. Sports inject billions of dollars into local communities.

If we are smart about continuing to combat this virus, we will have sports back sooner rather than later. That’s a goal line for which we should all be aiming.

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