“Life’s a Pitch” is a bi-weekly column by Elizabeth Islas about collegiate and professional sports.
We’re now in our fourth week without any sports — that is, if you don’t count the WWE or NASCAR iRacing.
I’ve been able to keep myself entertained by rewatching old games like the 2004 Rose Bowl between USC and Texas (ouch) and by playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But let’s be honest ... life is still not the same. League commissioners understand this, and they’re starting to brainstorm ways that sports can make a return.
Even though I would rather be in Los Angeles enjoying a ball game and a Dodger Dog right now, I think bringing back sports would be really tricky at such an unprecedented time. Unless leagues can figure out a way to safely do this, I do not think a comeback should happen yet.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that all sports are able to come up with a plan for a safe return, which entails quarantining players prior to play to ensure they don’t spread the virus and making sure to maintain proper social distance. Although these professional leagues would be taking the necessary precautions to keep their players and employees healthy, the same cannot be said for athletes all around the globe. Leagues need to understand that they set an example for aspiring professional athletes worldwide.
If a high school kid sees LeBron James and the Lakers make a return, that may entice him and his teammates to flock to the court again. The problem is they may not do it in a safe, regulated manner which could have dire consequences. Nothing the leagues could say or do would be able to stop the worldwide rippling effect. After all, leagues from all over the world are considering a return.
Even now, when athletes like James are urging their fans to stay inside, I see small crowds of people in my neighborhood gathering to play sports like soccer and basketball. This is even after my local police department announced that all parks are closed and said they will start issuing $500 fines for those who do not follow “stay at home” orders. If professional sports return, it may also go against the various state “stay at home” orders. As of April 3, only five U.S. states have not issued a statewide order.
Another issue leagues would need to consider is keeping their players completely isolated to stop the spread of COVID-19. This includes keeping the players away from as many people as possible, which may or may not include their families, clubhouse personnel, stadium employees and even hotel and transportation employees. The respective leagues would have to take responsibility if anyone involved contracts and subsequently spreads the virus to others. This may be an issue too big to tackle.
Last but not least, if sports somehow find a way to continue their seasons, fans would not be allowed to attend games. This is something neither athletes nor fans would find entirely pleasing. In fact, some athletes have made their stance on this completely clear: this is not a scenario they want.
“We play games without the fans? Nah. Impossible,” James said in a postgame presser on March 6. “I ain’t playing if you don’t have the fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. So, if I show up to the arena and there ain’t no fans in there? I ain’t playing..”
Some may argue that bringing sports back would bring back a sort of normalcy to life, but the truth is, even if they do return, things would not be the same. Fans would only be able to watch from their homes. The game’s atmosphere would be eerie and uncomfortable to watch, as it was in the 2015 Orioles-White Sox game that was closed to fans after riots in Baltimore took over the city.
If leagues somehow figure out a way to address all the issues that may arise, I say “Play Ball!” But if these concerns cannot be resolved, I say making a return is not worth the risks that come with it.
After all, are sports “essential”?
“Life’s a Pitch” runs every other Monday.