Sports are back, which is reason for cautious celebration. The next question, though, is can they last?
As enjoyable as they are to watch, the start or resumption of seasons feels more and more like a house of cards that could collapse at any time. The smart money may rest with sooner rather than later.
Even before Max Scherzer took the mound Thursday night’s rain-shortened opener against the New York Yankees, literal and figurative storm clouds were gathering around the Washington Nationals.
Word emerged that their best everyday player, Juan Soto, tested positive for the coronavirus a day earlier. He reportedly passed subsequent tests, but has yet to take the field.
Then the Nats’ postseason hero, Stephen Strasburg, missed Saturday’s start with what was described as a nerve impingement in his wrist. Presumably that has no connection to the pandemic that paused the sports world for nearly four months, but in an abbreviated 60-game season, even one missed start equals three in a regular year.
At least Washington has a place to play its home games.
The same can’t be said of the Toronto Blue Jays, who will use Nationals Park as their “home” facility this Wednesday and Thursday before moving to their Triple-A facility in Buffalo, N.Y. The Canadian government wisely doesn’t want teams flying in from the U.S., where cases of the virus keep hitting new daily highs.
The NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando seems prone to burst even before exhibition games begin this week. Several high-profile players, including 2019 top draft pick Zion Williamson, have left the properties for personal reasons and must quarantine upon their return.
The odds of avoiding infection in such cases seem slim. Sunday brought a report that L.A. Clippers veteran Lou Williams was photographed in an Atlanta gentleman’s club during an excused absence from the bubble and will miss games. He likely won’t be the last player to run afoul of the rules.
College officials are desperately trying to preserve their athletic golden goose, big-time football. Some FCS conferences have called off the fall season, while some FBS leagues are wisely kicking the can down the road, in many cases eliminating non-conference games and considering delaying the start of the season.
But in the past week, two Power Five conference schools (Michigan State and Rutgers) suspended workouts because of the spread of coronavirus cases among players and team personnel.
Other schools have reported low incidents, but don’t be surprised if more schools have to pause if they get similarly scary results as the Spartans and Knights.
Then there’s sports’ 600-pound gorilla, the NFL. Training camps are scheduled to open this week with plenty of intrigue—no story more compelling than Washington quarterback Alex Smith trying to return from a gruesome 2018 injury that nearly required his leg to be amputated.
But instead of a league-controlled bubble, the NFL is counting on containing contagion in 32 separate camps, several of them in states like Florida and Texas that are experiencing severe spikes in the coronavirus. The league and its players’ union agreed on protocols just last weekend, and there surely will be some missteps along the way.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that Kansas City Chiefs offensive guard Laurent Duvernay–Tardif has joined a growing list of athletes across sports in opting out of the coming season.
Duvernay–Tardif is an aspiring physician who spent the off-season training in a clinic in his native Canada and feels he can be more helpful in the hospital than on the field. It’s a noble sentiment, but if someone with his medical knowledge chooses not to play, what does it tell us?
The bottom line is, enjoy sports while you can. Like many other parts of life, it could go away again soon—and maybe for a while.
Steve DeShazo: 374-5443