Rays and Astros Set to Battle for the American League Pennant

“So, Lord Helmet, at last we meet again for the first time for the last time.”

For reasons that only Mel Brooks knows, the above quote from the 1987 movie Spaceballs came to my mind when it became clear that the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros would once again cross schwartzs, I mean paths, in the Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason.

Last year, the Rays lost to the Astros in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Astros went on to the World Series where they were defeated by the Washington Nationals. This year, the teams face off in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) with the winner earning a pennant as well as a golden ticket to the 2020 World Series to face either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros are set to face off in the American League Championship Series. The winner will advance to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

In any other year, I would be torn between rooting for the Rays, or rooting for the Astros. In 2020, I am rooting for the Rays all the way. Additionally, I hope that the Rays sweep the Astros en route to their second World Series appearance in franchise history.

The Rays finished with the second-best record in baseball behind the Dodgers and have roster depth that most teams can only dream of. The Astros finished the regular season with a losing record and feelings of disdain from 29-other teams.

As noted before, the Astros truly were the luckiest team in baseball in 2020 by not having to face fans in opposing Ballparks after it was revealed in January that the Astros cheated for much of the 2017 season.

The year 2020 has taken so much and given so little. Were 2020 to give us a season ending with the Houston Astros in the World Series, after it began with the Astros getting caught cheating, that would truly be a bridge too far.

Of course, I say that in jest since comparing the horrors of the Astros hoisting a World Series trophy after getting caught cheating to the horrors of COVID-19 is truly no comparison.

Although the Tampa Bay Rays are four wins away from appearing in their second World Series Tropicana Field will not host any of the games.
Photo R. Anderson

The global COVID-19 pandemic has truly been the story of 2020, as has the inability of the federal government to devise a coordinated way to stop a disease that has killed over 214,000 Americans in a little over eight months. But there will be time enough for counting the failures of COVID-19 response when the pandemic’s done.

For now, it is time to look ahead to the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays carrying the baton for the Sunshine State while acknowledging that as much as I am thrilled at the prospect of the Rays being eight wins away from winning the World Series, I still remain convinced that the risks of playing baseball in the middle of a global health crisis well outweighed the benefits of getting to see live baseball in empty Ballparks.

Despite my reservations about having a season, MLB is a mere two weeks away from pulling off what many, including me, thought was impossible. So, whether they were just lucky, or if they were in fact good at mitigating COVID-19, I tip my Rays ball cap at MLB for doing what I certainly did not think they could do.

MLB overcame players testing positive and whole teams getting put in timeout for a week in their 60-game sprint to the postseason. They even expanded the number of postseason teams to 16 which allowed a Houston Astros team with a losing regular season record to now be eight wins away from a World Series title.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Some of the COVID-19 season changes, like expanded playoffs, and the universal designated hitter, may even become permanent fixture to baseball as MLB continues to try to tweak the game to appeal to a younger, fickler, shorter attention span, artisanal audience.

While MLB ultimately overcame their early season trials and tribulations, the National Football League (NFL) is facing the same challenges that MLB faced early in their season. Players are catching COVID-19, and games are being postponed. There is even talk that the pause button may need to be pressed on the entire NFL season to allow time to get a handle on outbreaks.

Like MLB before them, the NFL thumbed their noses at the idea of bubbles and decided to let teams travel from stadium to stadium. While MLB kept fans out of their Ballparks for the regular season, the NFL is allowing some fans to watch the games in person.

It should be noted that MLB announced plans to allow fans to watch the World Series in person in an attempt to act like there is not a global public health crisis sweeping the nation. Allowing fans in the stands offers the same containment efficiency that one might have when trying to comb the desert, or rake a national forest.

If sports must be played, there is no reason why they cannot be played in empty Ballparks and stadiums. Even if years without a global pandemic attendance at sporting events was already declining as more and more people chose rooting at home to battling traffic and crowds just to have the in-person experience at the game.

Sports will certainly be changed from this experience in the coming years. What the new experience looks like remains to be seen. For now, there is baseball to watch as the 2020 MLB season draws near the end and the Tampa Bay Rays strive to join the Tampa Bay Lightning in bringing a 2020 title to the Tampa Bay region.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to decide which order I want to wear my Rays shirts in next week. Rays Up!

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Looking Back at Some Columnists from the Golden Age of Column Writing Who Inspired Me to Always Write from the Heart and Strive to Make a Difference

The other day as I was pondering, “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,” as Edgar Allan Poe would say, I was reminded of some of the columnists who inspired me to get into the column writing field.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper. From an early age I dreamed of one day becoming a syndicated columnist whose words were read coast to coast.

Growing up in Orlando, FL in the days before the internet, my exposure to columnists mostly came in the form of the Orlando Sentinel. The two columnists I followed the most were Sentinel columnists Larry Guest and Bob Morris.

Thanks to the newspaper arriving at my parents’ house each morning, I was able to read their columns while eating breakfast and getting ready to head to school. Years later, despite the availability of electronic forms of news delivery, my parents still receive a physical newspaper each morning.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper.
Photo R. Anderson

If I trusted my neighbors to not steal my newspaper each morning, I would likely get a physical newspaper delivered to the Gigaplex.

There is just something about the tactile feel of folding a physical newspaper and getting ink transfer on one’s fingers as they read the paper.

Speaking of neighbors, Larry Guest, the long-time Sentinel sports columnist would always end his column of observations with a witticism from his fictional neighbor, Wolfgang. One such entry that I still remember all these years later is, “My neighbor Wolfgang sez he’s in shape. Round is a shape.”

While I do not have a neighbor named Wolfgang, I do have a neighbor named Niko. The other day my neighbor Niko asked, “Why is it that people will spend hundreds of dollars a year on virus protection for their computers, phones, identifies, and other devices, yet they refuse to wear a $10 mask to protect themselves and others from a virus called COVID-19?”

Why indeed, neighbor Niko. Why indeed?

Sports, like most of the rest of the country, are in unfamiliar territory thanks to the COVID-19 virus and the wide path of destruction that has killed over 202,000 Americans.

In the past, sports have served as a distraction to world events when tragedy strikes. In fact, the coliseum in Rome was built in part as a distraction to prevent civil unrest within the empire.

While I agree that sports have served to soothe the nation in previous times of unrest, it seems like the rush to return sports to full stadiums in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is an attempt to return false normalcy while Rome burns and a man tunes up his fiddle.

Many sports columnists are taught in sports school that sports and politics should never intermingle just like the fans of the Cubs and White Sox know to keep to their sides of Chicago. However, it has become clear in the course of human events that keeping sports and politics separate in 2020 results in a fan base equivalent of ostriches with their heads in the sand since there are people who only read the sports news and ignore the other news of the day.

How much news to include with the sports is something I have struggled with this year. I am from that generation of journalists who were told that news and sports needed to be treated with the same level of separation as church and state.

Although that may have been the case in the past, this year in the middle of a global health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social justice movements, one cannot just say that sports and news are two separate things.

Sports, COVID-19, and all of the other challenges we are facing in 2020 are strands of the same rope. A slew of recent events are trying to separate those strands, but the more one tries to pull on the thread the tighter the knot gets.

I am a journalist first and foremost and I would be doing a disservice if I tried to pretend that college football conferences who had delayed the start of their seasons reversing course and now planning to play is a good thing.

Shortly after announcing that restaurants and bars in Florida would open up to full capacity, and masks ordinances will no longer be enforced, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis showed further disregard for the COVID-19 pandemic by stating that it was his desire that the Super Bowl in February be held in a full Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Sports writers have a duty to call out the foolishness of that statement in terms of public health instead of cheering the announcement as a return to sports as normal. Photo R. Anderson

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that opening all of the bars and restaurants in Florida to 100 percent capacity in the middle of a global pandemic is also an ill-advised idea.

Speaking of Florida, the tone-deaf remark the governor of Florida made about wanting a completely full Super Bowl in Tampa, FL is downright criminal.

Additionally, Major League Baseball appears to want to have fans in the stands when the World Series is played in Arlington, TX. Fans in the stands for the World Series basically cancels out any benefits the MLB gained by using neutral sites for playoff games.

To be clear, none of those things are good, and they all have the potential to make a bad situation even worse.

The COVID-19 virus thrives in large gatherings. As someone who was fortunate enough to cover a Super Bowl in person, I can attest that the Super Bowl is a week-long large gathering that would be the perfect storm for spreading COVID-19.

And a World Series with fans? Come on MLB you are better than that. Try to set an example of responsibility for once during your 2020 fly by night and make it up as you go 2020 season.

Going back to the question asked by my neighbor Niko, masks work. In fact, masks are one of the biggest defenses against the spread of COVID-19. Yet there are still people who refuse to wear masks because they think it infringes on their freedom.

As I have noted before, being dead because someone didn’t wear a mask infringes on freedom.

All of this is common sense, yet looking at some sports stories online some of the columnists are merely complaining about how much they miss full stadiums and how much the fans need to return. These same columnists also are cheering the aforementioned decisions of those college conferences deciding to play football despite no real improvement in the overall virus numbers that led to the postponement of fall sports to begin with. In fact, one could argue the situation is worse as many college campuses are having COVID-19 outbreaks which has led to the cancellation of many college football games.

Worse still, there are politicians who instead of trying to develop a national strategy for battling COVID-19 are doing victory laps for convincing sports leagues to return to action in an attempt to unfurl a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

No mission is accomplished. We are still very much in the thick of it. As bad as 2020 has been, unless people start taking things more seriously, 2021 will be just as bad. COVID-19 will not just magically disappear like a miracle when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Besides Guest and Morris, other journalists that helped shape my columnist world view, were Bob Verdi, Red Barber, Red Smith, and Dave Barry. While I had the opportunity to read Verdi and Barry while they were still writing, my exposure to Smith and Barber came through books of their collected works and on the radio.

The columnists I grew up reading are mostly retired now. Since they are not actively writing, I have to wonder how they would handle the current conflict of conscience within the world of sports writing. Would they tackle the issues of 2020 with the tenacity of a hard-hitting news reporter, or would they jump on the bandwagon of let them play and fill the stands consequences be damned?

I want to believe that they would shout from the rooftops that there are more important things in life than sports and that sports will return when the virus is under control. Since they are not here to answer that question, I will answer in my own way and say, there is a time and place for full arenas and stadiums. The middle of a global COIVD-19 pandemic is not that time and place.

I miss injecting humor into my writing, but COVID-19 is no laughing matter. It cannot be ignored no matter how much people try to sweep it under the rug, or drown it out with crowd noise piped into empty Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my neighbor Niko needs some help installing virus software to stop all of those trolls on the other side of the world from trying to hack into his computer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Pumpkin Spice Season has Arrived Bringing with it the Taste of Fall to Summer

For as long as I can recall, my favorite season has been Fall. While, thanks to daily heat advisories, it can be hard in this part of Texas to know when Fall arrives, after consulting a calendar I can confirm that Fall is just around the corner.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything.

While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal like pumpkins.

Fall, or Autumn, as the fancy people call it, really is a tale of all seasons. By starting on September 22, and running to December 21, fall encompasses the summer like heat at the start, as well as the chill of winter at its climax. Of course, in Texas fall usually only has a few non summer like days during the march to winter.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything. While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal.
Photo R. Anderson

As much as I love fall, having lived in mostly fall free climates for the majority of my life, I have often been forced to only see the leaves change color either on television, or on the rare trip to a fall filled environment.

And while I can still enjoy a warm cup of cider, it is hard to get in that festive fall mood when one is wearing shorts and battling the heat while sipping that cider.

While I am limited in my ability to fully embrace all that fall has to offer in terms of leaves and cider, I am able to embrace the seasonal tradition of pumpkin spice season.

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin spice cupcakes, pumpkin pie Blizzards, and pumpkin spice lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.

Either because seasons are currently all a blur, or because marketing knows no boundaries, most of the pumpkin spice items arrived on September 1 this year. For those keeping track that means the tastes of fall debuted in the summer. At this rate, the tastes of the winter holidays will arrive by October 1 and summer time flavors will roll into town in February.

Can you say 4th of February Barbecue?

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy Pumpkin spiced pancakes, pumpkin spiced cupcakes, and pumpkin spiced lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, pumpkin spice season only lasts a few months of the year. As a result of the shortened season, each year I try to extend the smells of the season by stocking up on pumpkin spice scented air fresheners.

Sadly, I have yet to find the sweet balance of buying enough air fresheners in October to last me until they go on sale again when pumpkin spice season returns the following year.

I suppose that were pumpkin spice season to last all year, I might not appreciate it as much. By having a specific season each year, pumpkin spice season manages to come and go without over staying its welcome.

This year, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of pumpkin spice season provides a brief reminder of what normal life entails. It also should serve as a reminder that if everyone does their part it can be that way again.

Sports have tried to return this year to give people a sense of normalcy, however, there is nothing normal about the way they are being played.

The NHL and the NBA are playing playoff games in bubbles, and the NFL is set to kick off their version of a season in the midst of a pandemic next week. College Football will also try to fill some Saturdays with gridiron action.

When fall rolls around each year, I am usually one of the first people to declare when asked, that “yes, I am ready for some football.” However, this year I really would have preferred that football stay on the sidelines instead of trying to cobble together a season.

When done right, sports can provide a temporary escape from daily life. However, when down incorrectly, the escape can ring hollow.

Major League Baseball games look and sound like they have in the past, if one keeps their eyes closed. However, once you open your eyes and see that the fans are just cardboard cutouts, and the sounds are being piped in through the speakers, you become aware of the man behind the curtain. As a result, the great and powerful Oz seems just a little less magical.

In a pinch, I can always just sprinkle pumpkin spice flavoring on anything to get me through those pumpkin spice free dog days of summer and spring.
Photo R. Anderson

When baseball first returned this year, I caught a few games and tried to suspend reality and see the games for the pandemic distracting entertainment they were trying to provide.

But, after a few weeks of that, I realized that distraction was the last thing we need since it makes it too easy to buy into the myth that COVID-19 isn’t real, or that it is real and is totally under control.

Baseball is a sport full of statistics. Each year it seems like someone finds a new stat to track that no one had thought of before. Launch angles and exit velocity are now as much a part of the nomenclature of the game of baseball as balls and strikes.

With so many numbers to keep track of, it can be easy to lose track of the numbers that matter. The nearly 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 over the past nine months or so are a statistic that each and every one of us should be ashamed of. It should also motivate us to do our part to make sure that number does not continue to rise.

To put COVID-19 into baseball terms consider the following. A baseball manager would not leave a pitcher in the game who was giving up home run after home run and say, “well, it is what it is, and Bob’s really got control of his fastball today.” On the contrary, that manager would see that Bob’s control was not where it needed to be and would bring in a new pitcher to try to salvage a win.

America’s response to COVID-19 is a lot like Bob’s pitches. You know kind of all over the place, and hitting the Bull mascot, as well as anything else in the unfortunate path of one of his fast balls.

Instead of taking steps to correct the issue, our manager in chief is saying that a magical breakthrough will arrive just before the last out in the ninth inning and planning a World Series style parade, when there really is nothing to celebrate.

That would be like a baseball team sizing Championship rings for their players without ever taking the field. Sure, there is a chance that the other 29 teams could forfeit an entire season and allow the team that never took the field to be crowned champion.

I mean anything absurd that would never seem plausible in any other year can certainly happen in this wacky year called 2020. But, counting on winning a championship because the rest of the league forfeited is about as far-fetched as saying things like COVID-19 will just disappear.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spice latte. But that would be the wrong approach to take.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spiced latte like there is nothing to see here. But that would be the wrong approach to take.
Photo R. Anderson

I will still get my PSLs, and eat my pumpkin spice flavored foods just like I have in years past. But this year as I am partaking of the flavors of the season, I will be more aware of the essential workers behind the scenes who create all of those pumpkin flavored masterpieces.

Good Old Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus fell asleep in the pumpkin patch waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. We can not afford to fall asleep in the battle against COVID-19; unless we want to continue to have empty ballparks and restrictions on our movements.

It really is that simple. A little inconvenience now, like wearing a mask, and social distancing, will allow life to return to normal sooner than just ignoring the science and hoping that COVID-19 gets bored and decides to go away on its own. That is something we can all raise a pumpkin spiced latte to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some flavors of fall to eat in the middle of a late summer heat wave.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Washington Redskins Announce Name Change Without Announcing New Name

A week after celebrating their 88th birthday, the Washington Redskins are the ones giving out gifts by announcing that they ended their battle to maintain a nick name that a growing portion of society could no longer support.

While Native American groups had long called for the name of the franchise to be changed in order to remove what they considered a racial slur, ultimately it was the role of corporate partners threatening to withhold millions of dollars that moved the team kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who bought the team in 1999, famously told a reporter from USA Today back in 2013 that he would “NEVER” change the name of the team that he grew up rooting for, and became owner of. The full quote by Snyder being, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

A week after turning 88-years-old, the Washington Redskins announced that they were changing their name and logo.
Photo R. Anderson

A week after announcing the team would form a committee to look into changing the name, “Never” became, we are changing the name.

The ball started rolling when FedEx, which pays millions of dollars a year to put their name on the stadium the Redskins use, called for a new name for the team.

The all-out blitz continued when several companies took things a step further and stopped selling Redskins merchandise. Amazon, Walmart, Target, Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods, all removed Redskins merchandise from their websites last week. Nothing spurs change quite like a threat to the old wallet.

The new name was not announced during the press conference called to announce that the name would be changing. That is kind of like someone calling you to tell you that they sent you an email. Back in my Public Relations days, I would never have called a press conference just to give partial information. Oh, how times have changed.

To be fair to the Redskins, they did not announce the new name due to the need to secure trademarks for the new name before someone else tries to beat them to the trademark office. Back when there were rumblings about the team changing their name seven years ago, a Virginia man trademarked all of the potential names he could think of for the new team. Based on that ingenuity, they might as well call the team the Washington Capitalists.

Although a new name was not announced, the fact that a new name was coming was enough for Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to release a statement stating that, “July 13, 2020 is now a historic day for all Indigenous peoples around the world as the NFL Washington-based team officially announced the retirement of the racist and disparaging “Redskins” team name and logo. This change did not come about willingly by the team’s owners, but by the mounting pressure and advocacy of Indigenous peoples such as Amanda Blackhorse, and many other warriors who fought long and hard for this change.”

The statement by President Nez went on to say that, “We strongly encourage the NFL Washington organization to rename their team in such a way that truly honors and respects the First Americans of this country. Renaming the team “Code Talkers” to honor the Navajo Code Talkers, and other tribal nations who used their sacred language to help win World War II, would set the team on a path to restoring its reputation and correcting the historical misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples.”

The same week that the Redskins announced they were changing their name, the Atlanta Braves announced that they had no intention of changing their team name, but would look into the possibility of doing away with the “Tomahawk Chop.”
Photo R. Anderson

The same week that the Redskins announced they were changing their name, the Atlanta Braves announced that they had no intention of changing their team name, but would look into the possibility of doing away with the “Tomahawk Chop.”

The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Chiefs are also facing increased pressure to change their names.

As I have noted before, I have rooted for the Redskins for as long as I can remember. My mom roots for the Redskins. My aunts and uncles root for the Redskins. For us, rooting for the Redskins through times of feast and famine was just what we did.

I follow other teams, but the Redskins were the first team I ever rooted for, and are the ones that hold the biggest place in my heart. In fact, here in the Gigaplex, there are at least 18 Washington Redskins related items on display that I collected over the course of my fandom.

Honestly, I would be lying if I said that a piece of my heart wasn’t broken based on the pending name change. Don’t get me wrong, I know that changing the name is the right thing to do, but as a lifelong fan, I have a little more skin in the game. Although I knew for years that the band aid needed to get ripped off, it still hurts.

As part of the end of the Washington Redskins era, I will need to decide whether I can keep my pieces of Redskin memorabilia on display to remind me of all of the memories I had, or if they should be taken down and placed in a crate and stored in a vast warehouse like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, never to be seen again.

This door knob decoration has been on a door in all of my bedrooms since I was in elementary school. With the Washington Redskins changing their name to be more inline with the times, the door decoration’s days may be numbered.
Photo R. Anderson

There will be a lot of soul searching between now and whenever the NFL returns again. In a way it is good that the idea of the NFL having a 2020 season is likely a pipe dream based on the current COVID-19 climate and the total lack of social distancing that comes with playing football.

By not having a 2020 season, fans of the team with the new name in Washington D.C. can have a year to mourn the death of the Redskins, and try to decide whether or not they will be on board with whatever the team becomes.

To be clear, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to turn America into the laughing stock of the world as it runs free through the country like a tourist with a FastPass at Walt Disney World, any thoughts of kicking off a 2020 NFL season in September belong in Fantasyland.

Seriously, how is the government still not providing a national strategy for combating a virus that has killed over 135,000 Americans?

America is the richest country in the world, and I used to think it was one of the smartest countries in the world when it came to uniting people together towards a common goal. The fact that we have people trying to discredit science, and refusing to do simple things to save lives like wearing masks is unfathomable.

If the Washington Redskins can begrudgingly see the light and change their name after years of resisting, people can wear a mask and social distance in order to contain COVID-19.

No house party with friends, or other social event, is worth the potential cost of lives. And yes, people of all ages can catch this disease regardless of political party affiliation.

We don’t have years to get this right, and the COVID-19 virus is not a hoax, no matter how many tweets are sent out calling it that.

As the 20th Century poet Marshall Bruce Mathers, III, so eloquently said, “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? Yo”

The Washington Redskins are seizing their opportunity to get on the right side of history. The rest of America needs to follow suit when it comes to battling COVID-19 so that life can return to normal.

If we don’t get this right, COVID-19 will continue hanging over all of us like the sword of Damocles. Based on the current state of the country, the Washington Damocles would be a very appropriate name for the Redskins to adopt.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to listen to Eminem while reading some ancient Greek fables.

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