Dinosaurs can Teach Us a Lot About Sports and Pandemic Response

Like many other kids, when I was growing up, I loved dinosaurs.

Show me a picture of a dinosaur and I could tell you the name of the species in question, as well as whether it was a plant loving herbivore, or a meat loving carnivore.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.

Although my favorite dinosaurs were the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops, I celebrated the entire catalog when it came to the world of dinosaurs.
Photo R. Anderson

In turns out that my fascination with dinosaurs was not limited to my youth.

I recently completed an online course called Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, that was offered by the University of Alberta. If the course taught me anything, it is that I still like dinosaurs as much as I did growing up.

It also taught me that a lot has changed in dino science since I was a kid.

So, why do I bring up dinosaurs you may ask?

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.

That got me thinking about the ongoing debates related to the wisdom of playing sports in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

As we all know, dinosaurs are no longer with us. While scientists may argue about the specifics of how it happened, they all agree that except for fantasies portrayed in cinematic parks of a Jurassic nature, dinosaurs are very much extinct in this day and age.
Photo R. Anderson

Thankfully, we are likely to have a vaccine, therapeutic treatments, or at the worst herd immunity against COVID-19 before things would reach an extinction event level scenario.

However, the fact remains some people are ignoring the virus, and trying to act as if there isn’t a huge asteroid heading towards them.

Major League Baseball (MLB) ignored the science, and is paying the price through player and staff outbreaks in their non bubble approach to the season. Recently, it was noted that MLB may look into a modified bubble approach for the postseason.

The NHL and NBA are just two of the leagues that have shown bubbles work. The MLB and the rest of society could learn a lot from their example.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.

Consider the world of college football as the next battleground in the “to play or not to play” debate. While some college football conferences are canceling their fall seasons, there are others that are either waiting until the last possible minute to cancel, or are somewhat convinced that a miracle will occur and the heavens will open up to allow them to play football.

Of course, despite the growing evidence, and the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some sports are appearing to be as dense as a dinosaurs armor plating when it comes to evolving their thought process on the reality of the disease.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy football. I especially enjoy college football.

As mentioned previously, one of my favorite things to do on Saturdays in the fall is to get up and watch College GameDay followed by watching football games until late into the night.

The idea of a fall without football is certainly a tough thing for me to consider, but as the late Wilfred Brimley would say when he was selling oatmeal on TV, canceling college football is “the right thing to do.”

To be clear, football, even limited conference schedule only football, has no business being played in the middle of a global pandemic.

Of course, since college football is more business than educational endeavor, that is exactly the argument being made for why college football must be played.

Put bluntly, the argument for why some schools are determined to play is because there is too much money involved to just walk away.

Lost in all of the noise about needing to play college football in order to make all of that sweet, sweet cash, is the fact that college athletes are not paid. Also, college athletes do not have the same protections as professional athletes when it comes to negotiating their rights to opt out of the season without penalty.

Talk about a prehistoric concept.

I spent several years of my career working in collegiate sports information offices. As such, I have a bit of an idea of the inner workings of a college athletic department.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to surge like a tidal wave heading towards an unsuspecting beach, my first thought was there is no way that any college athletics program will want to risk the lives of their students just to make a few bucks.

Yes, there are college athletes who want to play football. However, there are also athletes who are worried that playing football this season will result in long-term health effects, or even death. I figured the adults in the room would choose athlete safety over profit.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Although some conferences have done the right thing and delayed and/or cancelled their seasons, The Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences (SEC) are promoting an “ignore the rising death count, we are here to play ball” approach.

It is likely not a coincidence that the Big 12 and SEC schools are mostly located in cities and states that are treating COVID-19 like a hoax. Many people in those areas are refusing to wear masks, or social distance and are promoting wild conspiracy theories that might even make the writers of the X-Files say, “That’s some crazy stuff right there.”

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.

The sad thing is, that if everyone had just buckled down in March and not prematurely reopened for Memorial Day the spread of COVID-19 would likely be contained to a level where playing college sports could be handled safely.

Perhaps if the athletic departments at those schools left their multimillion dollar facilities and walked to the science departments on the other side of campus, they might get a better idea of why playing football in the middle of COVID-19 is not really a good idea.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that is not what happened, and so we are worse off now than we were back in March.

Going back to our dinosaur example, some scientists have hypothesized that had the asteroid that hit near the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in the death of 75 percent of the earth’s species, hit almost anywhere else on the planet the dinosaurs likely would have survived.

While we can’t bring back the dinosaurs, it isn’t too late to get a handle on containing COVID-19. That is where the focus should be. We should not be worrying about what to do on Saturdays if there is no college football to watch.

The Chicxulub asteroid didn’t stop to ask the dinosaurs what they ate. It wiped out both the herbivores, and the carnivores with equal reckless abandon.

Likewise, COVID-19 attacks the people in blue states, as well as the people in red states.

Or, to put it in college football terms, COIVD-19 doesn’t care if you want the Tide to roll, or if you think that it is time for someone else to build a dynasty on the gridiron.

There will be a time to play college spots again, but first we really should get the raging wildfire under control. That should be something that even the most bitter of college rivals can agree on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to see if I can extract some DNA from this mosquito I found in a block of amber.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 puts the Sports World in an Extended Timeout

The world of professional baseball has been dark since March. Discussions are underway to return players to the ballparks in a shortened, fan-free season. Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, for many people right now it feels like up is down, and down is up. The virus has also introduced new terms like, social distancing and contact tracing into our vocabularies. As part of its destructive path into everyday life COVID-19 has caused the world of sports to grind to a halt as player and fan safety was given the proper level of respect.

The COVID-19 outbreak tested leagues in a way that many sports had never experienced. Social distancing requirements, as well as limits on crowd size, led to the cancellations of the XFL, NBA, NHL and almost all other sports leagues. On April 10, 2020 the XFL announced it had suspended operations indefinitely and laid off all league employees due in part to financial losses as a result of COVID-19.

The Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo were delayed by at least a year. All NCAA spring sports tournaments, including the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments were cancelled. Major League Baseball ended Spring Training early, and delayed the start of the season. The leagues that continued to hold competitions did so without fans in attendance as they tried to balance social responsibility with the public’s appetite for live sports.

With most major sports leagues shutdown due to COVID-19, sports fans looked for any port in the storm to quench their thirst for live competition. The American Cornhole League provided many fans with just such an outlet.
Photo R. Anderson

Before going any further, it is important to note that shutting down mass gatherings, like sporting events, was the right call.

One need only look at the amount of cases that spread out from a convention in Boston to know how quickly the virus can spread to know that mass gatherings are simply not prudent at this juncture. Even with social distancing, the number of cases, and the number of fatalities continue to rise. Were sports allowed to continue in full stadiums and arenas, there is little doubt that the case and death count would be much higher.

It should also be said that the inconvenience of not having live sports to watch is trivial compared to the real effects of COVID-19 that many people are facing across the world through losses of jobs and in extreme cases losses of loved ones.

Although the major sporting leagues have been shutdown for nearly two months, there are rumblings building to resume sports, albeit in empty stadiums without fans. NASCAR, which kept fans entertained through simulated races, is set to resume racing in empty tracks on May 17, 2020. Five years after the first game in Major League Baseball history was played in Baltimore without fans, MLB is negotiating with the player’s union to try to gain approval to host a truncated 82 game season in empty ballparks starting in July.

NASCAR is set to resume racing without fans in attendance on May 17, 2020. Time will tell whether the fans return for the Daytona 500 in February at Daytona International Speedway.
Photo R. Anderson

All of these efforts to resume sports without fans show a desire for the governing bodies of the respected sports to explore any and all means for the show to go on. This effort to resume is driven in large part so the leagues can recoup some sort of financial payday.

While a return to live sports on television, even sports without fans, would be welcomed by many, one has to ask whether leagues risk diminishing the product by forcing reduced schedules on fans and trying to call it a full season. Should a World Series Champion that only played an 82-game regular season be considered as talented as teams of the past who prevailed over the course of a season that was twice as long?

Additionally, as part of any discussion on the resumption of live sports one must also ask whether players are being put at undue risk by being asked to travel from city to city, and potential virus hot spot to hot spot, just so the show can go on in some form or fashion.

To be clear, like most sports fans, I miss being able to unwind at the end of the day by watching a game on television. However, I am not sure that I miss live sports enough that I am willing to support putting my favorite athletes potentially at risk of catching, or spreading, a virus that currently has no cure just so they can bring me a few hours of entertainment.

As professional sports look at ways to resume during the era of COVID-19 one has to wonder how exactly a football huddle with social distancing would look.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from needing to address player safety as part of any path to resumed competition, leagues must also consider that airing games without fans leagues may hasten the trend of people choosing to watch games from the comfort of home versus battling thousands of people to get to a seat so far from the field that they are basically watching the game on the big screen anyway. Sure, the made for TV sports are better with screaming fans, but there is something to be said for watching at home where the snacks and the bathrooms are both a lot easier to get to.

With NASCAR and MLB looking to get their seasons going, the eyes of the world of sports turn their focus to football. Even if one accepts the prospect of empty football stadiums, it is hard to fathom how players could be in the trenches on the gridiron and not risk exposure to COVID-19.

Exactly how does one huddle with six-feet of separation? Even a scenario where players are wearing masks does not seem feasible. It is hard to think that a wide receiver can run full speed down the sideline wearing a N-95 mask under his face mask. The only possible solution would be to equip all player helmets with a clear shield that covers their mouth and nose, but even that is a stretch.

College Football is one of the sports on the bubble for a return based on a NCAA position on the need for students to be on campus before sports can resume.
Photo R. Anderson

College sports face their own hurdles for resuming in the fall. The NCAA has said that sports will not resume unless on campus classes have also resumed. The implication being that if the college is not deemed safe enough for students to be on, then the athletes should not be expected to have to play there.

There is too much money involved in college football to think that a work around of some sort will not be found to play games if the COVID-19 virus is still running rampant across the country come August. The topic of College Bowl Games and the College Football Playoffs is another issue that is bound to get a lot of attention in the coming months based on the millions of dollars at stake.

It is entirely possible that the sports landscape will never return to the levels that it was at before the world of sports was shut down by COVID-19. By adopting an attitude that everyone is in this together, those most impacted by the global timeout in sport can better weather the storm. It is crucial to keep in mind that the current situation is also only temporary.

Perhaps James Earl Jones’ character Terence Mann in the movie Field of Dreams said it best when he said “People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Yes, baseball and other sports will resume at some point, and people will indeed come. How many people are allowed to come over the next few years based on social distancing remains to be seen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some masked competitive cornhole to watch on the Ocho followed by some lawnmower racing.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson