The Flyers play hockey Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Don’t go. Stay home.
The Sixers play basketball there Wednesday night. Don’t go. Stay home.
You should have that option. It shouldn’t cost you. The leagues seem intent on making as much money as possible regardless of risk, but you should be able to get a rebate or a replacement ticket. It would cost them millions, but it’s the right thing to do.
As coronavirus cases continue to surface across the United States, the NBA and NHL are consulting with the Centers for Disease Control, three sources said, but they are not considering suspending seasons or excluding their fans from games. Come as you are. You just might not leave as you were.
This is madness, but this is also commerce. Such, apparently, is the price of life. So, if the government and the leagues won’t protect you from yourselves, it’s up to you. Don’t come. Nobody needs to see the Bruins or the Pistons that badly.
If this seems extreme, well, think about it.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who bought 36 extra rolls of toilet paper, a gallon of hand sanitizer, and a case of canned peaches this weekend, that indicates you believe the coronavirus is a viable threat. If you attend a sporting event, which essentially is diving into a cesspool of germs, that indicates you do not believe coronavirus is a viable threat.
You can’t anticipate the apocalypse, then turn around and hasten its arrival because the Flyers won nine straight.
The NHL, which last week forbade employees from traveling outside North America, closed its locker rooms to media Tuesday, as did the NBA, Major League Soccer, and Major League Baseball. Yes, that was the barn door closing as the horse galloped away.
The NBA board of governors will hold a conference call Wednesday to further discuss handling the crisis. Last week the league issued a memo directing teams to determine which people in their arenas on game nights are nonessential, in case they close the entrances.
You know who’s nonessential? You.
Just stay away, and get your money back. It’s not just the winter leagues that owe you this. The same is true of college basketball tournaments, the XFL — really, any event that draws big crowds.
This is not a novel concept.
Switzerland’s top two hockey leagues last week postponed playoffs until at least next week. A week before 400,000 people descended on the capital of Texas, the City of Austin canceled the annual South by Southwest arts and music festival Friday.
That was the same day Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an emergency disaster declaration after two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the state.
The Japanese professional baseball league postponed its season, scheduled to open March 20, by at least two weeks. Organizers of the Indian Wells Masters tennis tournament in California, considered the sport’s fifth major, canceled the event Sunday after one local case of coronavirus was confirmed. The move reportedly could cost as much as $50 million.
On its website, the CDC advises event planners to “create refund policies” and to “plan alternative ways for participants to enjoy the events by television, radio, or online.” All of these are options for upcoming sporting events.
Neither the NBA, NHL, Flyers, or Sixers responded to questions Monday as to whether they would offer refunds and/or encourage fans to watch from home. They should.
Pennsylvania and South Jersey now have eight confirmed cases, seven of which are in counties that border Philadelphia: Montgomery County, Delaware County, and Camden County.
Think any of these folks knows a Flyers fan? Maybe they’re the next-door neighbors of the drunk, sweaty guy spilling into your seat, yelling at Jake Voracek to back-check, high-fiving you when Claude Giroux goes top shelf. Want to take that chance?
Consider that several members of Congress have self-quarantined after they were briefly exposed to a COVID-19 victim last week — among them, karmically, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who mocked worries of the spread of the disease by wearing a gas mask on the House floor last week.
The leagues should be wary of the same.
If teams are intent on being petri dishes for disease vectors, then they shouldn’t penalize fans for opting out. It will mean smaller and more tepid crowds, and players won’t like that, but then, the players crave worship.
LeBron James said Friday, “I ain’t playing” if the NBA closed games to fans.
On Monday, several Flyers shared LeBron’s indignation and, frankly, his ignorance.
“I don’t know enough to have an educated opinion,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen. “We’ve been advised to wash our hands, things like that. Keep in touch with the training staff if anything comes up. As far as dealing with media or fans, not much has been said. They sent out a memo. I’m not sure guys even looked at it.”
I shook his sweaty hand — our last handshake for a while, apparently — and moved on.
Niskanen apparently is one of the players who didn’t get the memo, since both the NBA and NHL have advised players to limit interactions with people not on their team. To be fair, contamination might be less of a concern with hockey players, who literally play their game behind a glass, but who, nonetheless, might have a tighter visceral connection to fans, whose frenzies they relish.
“It would suck. It’s an awesome feeling playing in front of 20,000 people. We might as well play at the SkateZone in Voorhees," said Austrian winger Michael Raffl, who said he hasn’t even discussed the matter during recent calls to his family back in Europe.
"I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I think it’s being pushed by the media, and that it’s a little out of control in Italy.”
Italy on Monday suspended all sporting events as the virus neared 6,000 confirmed cases and more than 200 deaths as the country faced prison riots and lockdown.
Still, there was no alarm in the locker room. Despite the bad news from Italy, China, South Korea, and Iran — which accounted for more than 90% of the 114,000 confirmed cases and more than 96% of deaths in the 112 affected countries — the Flyers remained unfazed.
“I think I have more chance of catching the flu,” Sean Couturier said. “We’re going to stop living now? I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and I guess it’s more dangerous than the flu, but I’m not going to stop living."
That’s the whole point.