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COVID cripples Sixers’ schedule as NFL, NBA, NHL resume protocols they should’ve never quit | Marcus Hayes

Vaccinations and mitigation remain our best tools to ensure we can have nice things, like, you know, pro sports games.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) and Joel Embiid both had COVID-19. Both felt the effects long after they returned.
Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) and Joel Embiid both had COVID-19. Both felt the effects long after they returned.Read moreYong Kim / MCT

At this point, it’s like COVID-19 has become an insidious habit we’ve fallen back into. Marlboro Reds. Johnnie Walker Black. Dessert at midnight.

We cannot seem to help ourselves. We cannot seem to resist. We cannot seem to bring ourselves to wear masks at Wawa, where it’s not mandatory but recommended. We cannot seem to understand that, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down the governor’s mask mandate for schools, it means that COVID will continue to haunt the hallways for many more months.

We cannot seem to convince ourselves that half-baked adherence to common-sense protocols results in half-baked results. Why? Because we value “personal freedoms” over the greater good. And, so, we cannot have nice things.

In this case, it means more postponements in the sports world. Most recently, it meant the Sixers’ home game against New Orleans wouldn’t happen Sunday night after Andre Drummond and Shake Milton joined Georges Niang in COVID protocols. It was one of five NBA games originally scheduled to be played between Sunday and Tuesday that have been called off. The new players bring to seven the number of Sixers who have been affected by COVID this season; Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe were out earlier.

The NHL postponed 10 games, beginning last weekend, thanks to COVID outbreaks among players in Toronto, Boston, Vancouver, and Nashville. Six teams shut down for a week, and cross-boarder games have been postponed through Thursday, and the NHL’s presence at the Olympics in Beijing in February seems unlikely.

The NBA, NHL, and NFL returned to enhanced measures to mitigate further spread, but that horse has long left the barn. Why wouldn’t it? The leagues left the barn door wide-open -- and the NFL refuses to close it. Players who are vaccinated will only be spot-tested now as long as they’re not hacking and feverish or whatever, even though infected victims can spread the virus without presenting symptoms -- which means these will be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic Typhoid Marys. Cancer-survivor coaches Ron Rivera and Bruce Arians should be delighted by this.

The Stupid runs deep behind The Shield.

It never made sense to relax protocols in any league where players and staff speak, sweat, spit, and evacuate themselves in communal settings. But, you know, freedoms.

Reporters and staff had to follow a vaccine mandate. Reporters and staff had to wear masks.

Players didn’t.

So, here we are. Merry Christmas.

Three NFL games were postponed from this past weekend to Monday and Tuesday nights, including the Eagles’ home game against Washington, moved from Sunday at 1 p.m. to Tuesday at 7 p.m. This came to pass after 23 Washington players entered COVID protocols, the first among them Montez Sweat, who is unvaccinated. The NFL had policies in place to absorb even a mass outbreak such as this, but it ignored them, in typical, arbitrarily unfair NFL style — a decision that injured the Eagles, in particular.

» READ MORE: NFL screws the Eagles with the postponement of the Washington game | Marcus Hayes

To be clear, all of the games should have been played as scheduled, as the NFL vowed before the season began. The manpower existed. The medical community predicted more easily transmissible coronavirus variants, and Omicron arrived right on schedule. But, to maximize the money with three free prime-time games, the NFL sacrificed safety for cash: Playing on short weeks at this point of the season courts disaster. Human bodies aren’t built for 17-game NFL seasons, much less 17-game seasons played with fewer than six or seven days’ rest.

If the NFL and NFLPA truly cared about player safety, they would have agreed to mandate vaccines and boosters for all players. All leagues would reinstate the most stringent of protocols for everyone, including daily testing, social distancing and mandatory masks indoors, no communal dining, virtual meetings, no shenanigans while traveling, and a home-to-work-to-home regimen for all players and coaches. They would enact protocols that forbid holiday gatherings and enact them now.

These types of measures worked in 2020. They’ll work again.

It’s just that simple.

Make players stay in the hotel on the road, no visitors, no restaurants, no cabs, no Ubers. Test, then plane, then hotel, then test, then arena, then plane; rinse, repeat. It stinks, yes, but this is the road we have chosen.

We’ve become lax. We’ve become lazy. We’re facing a version of disease that travels easier than Gary Player. Omicron might be less deadly than Delta and the original virus, but the United States still averaged more than 1,200 COVID deaths per day last week. The most dire projections, solicited by the Centers for Disease Control, predict almost 3,800 deaths per day within a month. We’ve already reached 800,000 deaths in America, by far the most in the world, while we wallow in a pandemic of the unvaccinated, where unvaxxed victims are about five times as likely to die as their fully vaxxed counterparts.

It will not be a Happy New Year.

As tiring as it is to continue to mask up, and get jabbed, and wash hands, and stay apart, it is far more tiresome to argue that these measures are ineffective. There is no argument. Just stop.

And no, nobody’s perfect.

In my household, we don’t mask up all the time, everywhere, but we do pretty well. My kids go to mask-optional schools, but they wear masks in class and in the hallways because they don’t want to get sick and miss sports or school. Last week we declined an invitation to an ugly-sweater party. We also called off our annual New Year’s Eve bash for the second straight year, partly because the Philadelphia health commissioner recommended it, and partly because we didn’t want to deal with asking people to be vaccinated or tested in order to attend.

Yeah, it’s all a hassle. Like you, I know people who have had strong, scary reactions to the vaccine, but they are, by far, the exception. Regardless, getting the shot is much safer than getting the disease — heart and fertility issues overwhelmingly are more likely to arise from COVID than from the vaccine, and getting the COVID shot makes you much less likely to get it and spread it.

All of it is exhausting: the evolving knowledge, the shifting protocols, the brain-dead arguments. But it is what it is.

And it’s not going away, until we, and the leagues, and the unions, all do the right thing.