Sports’ grand plans to return to action this summer were fine and dandy when they mostly were theoretical. But the monumental challenge – or possibly folly – of it all is starting to hit home.
For many, the blinking red warning light was Major League Baseball’s botched testing delay over the weekend, an unforced error that illustrated what everyone is dealing with here.
For others, perhaps it was FC Dallas withdrawing from the MLS is Back Tournament after 10 players and a coach tested positive for COVID-19.
But for me, it was a segment on “SportsCenter” on Monday night in which Malika Andrews, ESPN’s reporter on the scene inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble, explained her daily routine there.
It involved endless testing and some sort of magic watch that opens her hotel room and a credential that beeps quietly when she is less than six feet from other humans and then more loudly if she does not distance herself.
She was not wrapped in an actual plastic bubble as she spoke, but she was standing outside her hotel at the time, so who knows what came next inside?
And Andrews is not even a player, although the Nets might start recruiting volunteers to pitch in at some point.
When the rest of the NBA shows up in Disney World, flying elephants might be the least of the challenges there.
None of which is to say that these fan-less, COVID-19 experiments are not worth the effort.
While it is true that the primary motivation for all sports entities is protecting media contracts, the rest of us benefit, too, by having something to watch other than “Ozark” and people yelling on cable news networks.
So there is a certain nobleness in this quest, no matter how quixotic it might turn out to be.
Everyone is trying to do the right thing, even if, as MLB demonstrated this week, that quickly can go wrong.
Did some of the people in charge of sports, and many of us who follow sports, underestimate the undertaking amid a once-in-a-century pandemic in a country not fully committed to the steps necessary to deal with it? Yup.
But now that we have come this far, it says here it is worth attempting to make this happen.
Golf, motor sports, mixed martial arts, boxing, horse racing, European soccer, American women’s soccer and Korean baseball have shown it is possible to create a reasonable facsimile of normal-ish sports television.
Now comes the turns of MLS/MLB/NBA/NHL/NFL, using the lessons learned elsewhere to put on a show.
Do not judge baseball too harshly by the depressing sight of an empty Yankee Stadium for Monday’s intrasquad scrimmage on YES Network. Surely things will be dressed up a bit later this month for real games.
The NHL has the advantage of playing games in Canada, where the virus is under control and is not likely to be exacerbated by crowded, mask-less beach parties in Edmonton.
But the other team sports can do this, with hard work and good luck. Just respect the degree of difficulty.
These leagues’ primary business is extracting your money for tickets, merchandise, concessions and cable TV dollars and eventually depositing them into the bank accounts of owners and players. Their business is not inventing a massive health and safety infrastructure on the fly.
Six months from now, we will be saying one of two things: Either it was a foolhardy notion that so many moving parts could be kept on track while keeping everyone in good physical and psychological health, or that it was an impressive, successful feat of creativity and stubbornness.
Or maybe a little bit of both. Regardless, it is worth the try.