For anyone not predisposed to believe Governor DeSantis & President Trump’s spin on Coronavirus, it has been obvious since the first week of June that Florida was entering very dangerous territory. However, unfortunately we have learned in the past few weeks, too many Americans live in an alternate reality, be it out of blissful ignorance or due to inherent selfishness. The distinction should not matter at this point – either you are part of the solution or part of the problem.
The cognitive dissonance related to this issue drove me over an edge three weeks ago. Unfortunately, I have to report those making myopic excuses then have only doubled-down since, even when presented with evidence showing every other major industrialized country has beaten back the virus due to unified efforts, a selfless society and individual discipline while the United States has done the reverse, reaching new heights for virus transmission three months after other western nations saw their peaks.
Now as Florida recorded more new COVID-19 cases per capita over the last 15 days than virus epicenters like Russia, India and Pakistan, professional team sports are about to fire back up in the state. Major League Soccer (MLS) begins a month-long tournament known as #MLSisBack on Tuesday at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sport complex. The following week, the United Soccer League (USL), based in Tampa resumes play including at Florida venues and in late July the biggest fish of all, the National Basketball Association (NBA), tips off at Wide World of Sports.
No doubt professional sports can provide a sense of comfort and normalcy for large portions of the public. But comfort and complacency have to this point proven to be the enemy of the United States in fighting Coronavirus. Instead of beating the virus, the USA three months after the height of lock downs is seeing its highest number of new cases. Here in Florida, we’re on average recording over FIVE TIMES as many cases on a daily basis as we were during the previous “height” of the pandemic.
The lack of willingness to make minor self-sacrifices among many ordinary Americans has been mind-boggling while creating an unsympathetic look for this country abroad. Too many Americans have shown that they feel being unable to crowd into bars, go to the beach or watch live sports on TV is some sort of imposition of totalitarianism. So against this backdrop, the return of live sports has been welcomed by many.
Soccer leagues in the United Kingdom and European Union have restarted play with great success. Playing in front of empty stadiums for a TV audience, the leagues have had little trouble trying to make up for matches that were postponed during the two to three months of lockdown. Safety fears have been allayed as testing regimes have been rigid, and safety protocols overwhelming. Little has gone wrong.
But those in the US using European examples miss the point – in the height of the COVID crises on the other side of the Atlantic, all sporting activities were suspended. Everyone was under lockdown, and those who were behaving badly faced societal shame. Currently, the US is seeing an all -time high spike in new cases and testing resources are being stretched – something that isn’t often talked about. Meanwhile, those flaunting attendance at group gatherings and not wearing a mask are often rewarded with countless Twitter, Instagram and Facebook adulation – a clear sign of a society whose priorities have run amok.
So rather than wait for an all clear, professional teams sports in the United States is firing back up – thanks largely to the generosity of the state of Florida in playing host to competitions. In fairness, these plans were largely formulated in May, when cases were dipping, but as soon cases began to uptick in early June, the needed pivots from sporting leagues was not seen. In time we are likely to learn what influence sporting leagues and venues like Disney had in accelerating Florida’s reopening, which saw 64 of 67 counties jump to Phase II just 17 days after beginning Phase I.
On June 27, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) resumed play with a one-month tournament in Utah. But one team had to withdraw before the competition began due to a number of positive covid tests – Florida’s lone entry the Orlando Pride. NWSL’s tournament went ahead but many of the most prominent and visible women’s footballers like Megan Rapinoe choose to skip the competition.
In fairness, we must distinguish MLS’ competition, MLS is Back which will be held inside a mostly, but not completely impenetrable bubble in Orlando from USL’s idea of having regional play with matches in home venues. USL will have traveling teams who presumably in many cases will travel through airports, fly on commercial flights and stay at public hotels. In some states, though not Florida, this means home crowds as well, subject to local regulations. The NBA will restart with a similar setup to MLS’.
In this Covid crisis thus far, Florida’s health resources have \thankfully not been overwhelmed – however we have been precariously close to running out of ICU beds in Hillsborough and Lee counties in the last week, while testing has been inconsistent and marked by long lines and some shortages.
Many have focused on the possibility of virus transmission, team contact sports like soccer and basketball create. I wholeheartedly agree, but also as a Floridian raise the issue of resources being allocated to these competitions that could serve the general public in a time of crisis.
While I sympathize with MLS, USL and the NBA, that their restart plans were formulated in May with the assumption that June’s COVID impact would be similar or less than May, going forward with their plans is highly irresponsible. It also demonstrates when it comes down to it, these sporting entities, however socially responsible they may appear on issues like Black Lives Matter, are ultimately businesses, long enabled by our culture that are more concerned about bottom lines than anything else.
Everything in our society comes with opportunity costs. The cost of restarting professional team contact sports in Florida will have some impact on our ability to cope with the virus which is currently raging in our state.
The big question then is if it is worthwhile for economy (remember much of Florida is highly seasonal and our busy season is NOT the summer) and people’s mental health? That’s up to each individual to decide. I know where I stand, but find it an increasingly lonely place as many around the state urge a “return to normalcy,” whatever that means.