The Christopher Columbus statue in South Philly is a step closer to being moved, with a vote in favor from the Philadelphia Historical Commission. But it’s just the start of needed healing, local Native Americans say.

And we chatted with sports reporter EJ Smith on what to expect for the NBA and NFL seasons, given the changes made for the safety of the players and staff.

The week ahead

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Behind the story with EJ Smith

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (left) and head coach Doug Pederson talk during a timeout against the Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in 2019.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (left) and head coach Doug Pederson talk during a timeout against the Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in 2019.

Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with sports reporter EJ Smith on how and when professional sports are returning.

The NBA is going into the bubble to restart its season. What is the NFL up to?

The NFL is tentatively planning on getting training camp started, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if training camp is pushed back, especially since the NBA and MLB are resuming play, which could give the NFL a chance to learn from their examples.

A couple of players broke the NBA bubble in Florida, right? Do you think this setup is sustainable to finish the season?

A couple of players, including Richaun Holmes, a former Sixer, broke the NBA’s bubble already. It’s hard to believe hundreds of professional athletes are going to willingly stay in quarantine. Holmes broke the bubble to get a food delivery, which is a pretty inadvertent way to do so. As things wear on longer, I’m sure more players will have more calculated and intentional plans to break out. The danger that will come with that is still to be seen, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect all of these people to follow the rules for an extended period of time.

Any chance fans can attend games? What will sports look like without the crowd?

I don’t want to speculate too much, but I’d say fans attending games is pretty unlikely. Even medical experts don’t know enough about the coronavirus to make these decisions yet, so I’m far from qualified to make an actual prediction, but what I’ve read makes it sound like this fall will be challenging for a lot of reasons. With so much uncertainty, I honestly think just having games at all would be a win for Eagles fans.

We’ve had some examples of fan-less stadiums to draw from with a lot of international soccer leagues back up and running. I’ll be honest, it took me longer than I’m proud to admit to realize the fan noise I was hearing was pumped in by the PA system. Even if we do get fans, I’d expect a lot of very strict rules keeping people separated and a lot of cleaning involved.

How do you feel about sports returning?

I do worry about everyone’s safety. My wife is a nurse and my mom recently beat leukemia, so I’m not lacking for people around me to give me perspective on how serious this pandemic is and what’s at stake. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the long-term implications of being infected, which is one of the issues I struggle with most when I think about how ready I am to have sports back. If there’s a chance of long-term health issues from catching this virus, it’s going to be a lot harder to justify asking athletes, coaches, reporters, and everyone else to put themselves at risk.

What is one thing someone should know about sports returning?

I think it’s important to acknowledge and accept that, just like most things moving forward, sports aren’t going to look the way they used to for a very long time, and they probably shouldn’t. I don’t know the next time people are going to be shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of strangers, sharing common spaces and restrooms, but it’s going to be a while. Saying goodbye to the old normal for the foreseeable future isn’t very fun, but I think it will be necessary for us to do so in order to keep each other safe and make way for whatever the new, safer way of life will be.

Why did you become a journalist? What is one thing you wish more people better understood about your job?

I went into freshman year of high school telling everyone I wanted to own a small business. I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded like a good plan, right? I took Business 101 and promptly realized I was not cut out for whatever I had thought running a business would be like. The next semester I took journalism because I'd always loved writing. I knew almost instantly it's what I wanted to do. I love telling people's stories, I love the responsibility that comes with people trusting you with those stories and I love the feeling of finally getting an anecdotal lede just right. Those things, in addition to covering sports for a living, are what make my job so much fun.

I am always advocating for people to stop generalizing “the media” as one big, singular colluding group of people. Something a journalist says on TV or radio doesn’t reflect on the work that I do and vice versa. In a more general sense, just because the evening news didn’t cover something doesn’t mean one of my great colleagues “won’t tell you that.” There are certainly people in the field with ulterior motives, but the vast majority of the people I work with are doing their jobs the best they can without any nefarious intentions.

Email EJ Smith at ESmith@inquirer.com and follow him on Twitter at @EJSmith94.

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Comment of the week

“Auwe! So sorry to see you close Poi Dog. Your food was so ono - broke da mouth! Going miss you. Aloha pumehana and thanks for the fish!” — adbrigg on Poi Dog Philly to close due to financial impact of the coronavirus.

Your Daily Dose of | ‘Highlights’ magazine

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