As the coronavirus rages on, sports are returning. The MLB has reconvened spring training and plans to start their shortened season July 23, with the Phillies set to play three exhibition games this month. The NBA is planning to resume their season July 30, while the NHL and NFL are soon to follow suit.

While leagues outwardly insist they are prioritizing safety, some fans and even players have doubts about the wisdom of starting back up amid a pandemic. A former Daily News columnist debates a longtime Philly sports fan: Do we need sports right now?

YES: With safety as their highest priority, sports will boost morale.

By John Smallwood

We need our games back.

In the grand scheme of the coronavirus pandemic, reopening professional sports is not important. Millions of Americans have been infected, and more than 130,000 have been killed by it.

There’s no knock-down argument against keeping sports shut down until greater control has been gained over COVID-19. It would be no harm, no foul.

There are, however, mental health arguments for why the sports leagues should continue with their plans to open up and resume playing — safely.

Professional sports might be adults getting paid to play kids’ games, but they serve an important role in our society and culture: They are an exit ramp.

They are a needed stress relief after a hard grind in the rat race. They are events primed for social interaction.

Watching sports allows us to exhale in a mental way that can be just as important as actually breathing — a release we especially need now.

I’ve been watching cars and fights as NASCAR and the Ultimate Fighting Championship have already returned after coronavirus put them on pause.

“No [coronavirus] spirals have happened in the European soccer leagues that have resumed playing, nor in South Korea’s professional baseball league.”

John Smallwood

MLS returns tonight, while the NBA, NHL, WNBA, MLB, and NFL are all moving forward with announced plans to resume action over the next couple of months.

Bring them on. As long as it can be done with relative safety — and that has to be the ultimate deciding factor — let’s play.

I want an NBA champion, a Stanley Cup holder, and a World Series winner. In a world that is currently so dark, fans need the wild roller coaster of following their favorite teams’ pursuit of championships.

Of course, there are risks. We don’t yet know enough about the coronavirus to say what the long-term repercussions will be.

But we can also say with a high degree of confidence that being a player, manager, or executive on one of these teams will be the safest place there can be during the pandemic.

These leagues are multibillion-dollar global corporations. They will spare no expense to use the most cutting-edge techniques to protect their assets.

If things began to spin in a negative, they would shut back down — or major players and sponsors can use their clout to push them to.

So they are taking precautions and setting rules. The NBA will play at the Disney World campus, a place they are calling “the bubble.” The complex will only be open to those who are associated with the games. There will be constant testing for the virus, and the highest standards for care will be available. Players will be housed at luxury hotels and encouraged to not leave. No player will be forced to play.

And while NASCAR has allowed a limited number of fans at recent events, the plan right now for other leagues is to play without fans.

Nothing is foolproof. Players will test positive, and they will need to be directed immediately to appropriate care.

Still, unless the virus starts to spiral, the leagues will continue to play.

No such spirals have happened in the European soccer leagues that have resumed playing, nor in South Korea’s professional baseball league.

Ultimately, all aspects of American society will have to adapt to life after the coronavirus.

Professional sports will be a part of that future. Personally, I’m excited that they are trying to be part of the present.

I need the games right now. I need to exhale.

John Smallwood was a sports columnist for the Daily News for 20 years and covered the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, Final Four, World Cup, and Olympics.

Bremen's Milot Rashica (left) and Heidenheim's Marnon Busch challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga relegation first leg soccer match in Germany on Thursday, July 2, 2020.
Martin Meissner / AP
Bremen's Milot Rashica (left) and Heidenheim's Marnon Busch challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga relegation first leg soccer match in Germany on Thursday, July 2, 2020.

NO: Americans need to focus on their health and economic survival, not millionaire athletes.

By Christopher Tremoglie

During this uncertain time of the coronavirus pandemic, some have claimed that Americans need sports as part of the recovery process. And I get it: I love sports, especially in Philadelphia.

When I was a kid, my father spent hours trekking me down to Eagles practices and games to get autographs. To this day, my mother calls me every fall Sunday asking, “How ‘bout them Eagles?” when they win, or, “Do you believe those bums?” when they lose. I jumped up and down with my stepmom watching the “Philly Special” and the Super Bowl victory. I snuck into Game 5 of the 2008 World Series to see the Phillies win.

Sports are great. But to say we need them now, as people from Drew Brees to 56% of recent poll respondents have suggested, just is not true.

“Even under normal circumstances, while it may be hard to believe, most of the country does not watch sports.”

Christopher Tremoglie

Even under normal circumstances, while it may be hard to believe, most of the country does not watch sports. The U.S. population is roughly 327 million people. The last three Super Bowls — the most-watched sporting event here each year — averaged slightly less than 101 million viewers, meaning the majority did not watch. Other American sporting events have less viewership. Clearly, Americans do not need sports.

What Americans need is money to pay our bills, food to feed our families. Americans need to make sure that their government is protecting them from the spread of a deadly disease, that our health-care system is not overwhelmed. And despite a bunch of selfish and misguided people refusing to wear masks, Americans need to make sure our most vulnerable to COVID-19 are protected. At this crucial time, do we really need to actively support millionaires who cannot empathize with the plights of the average American?

Athlete hubris reached a peak when — at a time when 40 million Americans had filed for unemployment benefits — Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, with a guaranteed $50 million contract, said: “For me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof, it’s a shorter season, less pay. I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK?” Disappointingly, Phillies player Bryce Harper, with a guaranteed $330 million contract, echoed Snell’s sentiments. “He ain’t lying, he’s speaking the truth,” Harper said. “Somebody’s gotta say it, at least he manned up and said it.”

It’s understandable that people are eager for something to do in the midst of the lockdown. Yet, we don’t need to expand millionaire athletes’ bank accounts while millions of Americans deplete theirs.

During this great crisis, rather than genuflect at celebrity athletes, Americans should focus on helping each other. While millionaire athletes can demand more money, accommodating schedules, and receive frequent medical testing to go back to work, the rest of the country that has been hurting does not have such luxuries.

So, instead of supporting tone-deaf millionaire athletes, channel that same unbridled passion for the Flyers, Phillies, Sixers, and Eagles into helping our fellow Americans.

Volunteer and be more proactive in relief efforts, including one of the many opportunities available in the Philadelphia area. Take some of the burden off of the first responders and essential workers — our nation’s true superstars and unsung heroes.

Christopher Tremoglie is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying political science and Russian and East European studies. His articles have appeared in National Review, the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, the College Fix, Campus Reform, and Broad + Liberty. @chris_tremoglie


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