The sudden pause of American sports will affect many, but the leagues are right to be cautious
The sports world has looked on in disbelief this week as virtually all major sporting events around the country have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The March Madness tournament was canceled entirely, while the NBA, NHL and MLB are all on hold.
The NBA suspended its season on Wednesday after Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. MLB followed suit on Thursday by canceling the remainder of Spring Training and delaying the start of Opening Day by at least two weeks. The NHL has paused its season until it is safe to resume.
It is no secret that Americans love sports, and they often turn to their favorite teams as an outlet to deal with the kind of stress and anxiety that the virus has suddenly thrust on all of us. Unfortunately, whatever sources of entertainment people held up in their homes in the coming weeks can cook up, live sports won’t be among them.
Of course, changes of this magnitude have a ripple effect on virtually every sector of the sports world, from the spring training non-roster invitee whose chance to make the team might have been taken away to the single-parent stadium custodian who is abruptly out of a job.
After hearing that the NBA was suspending its season, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban immediately worked on a plan to ensure that part-time workers will still get paid. Other teams have followed suit, and even players have gotten in on the action. According to NBA insider Shams Charania, New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson announced he will cover the salaries of all Pelicans arena workers for the next 30 days.
The virus has also put sports media in a difficult position, with virtually nothing to talk about but the effects of COVID-19. Go check out the front page of ESPN, or even MLB.com. Almost every headline relates to the coronavirus.
Even sports teams themselves have plenty to lose, as numerous revenue-generating events have been put off without the promise of being made up later. Of course, each of the four major American sports leagues rake in well over $1 billion per year, so they are rightfully the least of our concerns in these trying times. Nonetheless, sports in America is a major driving force of the economy, and it will cost both sports teams and the local businesses that rely on them millions of dollars.
In the wake of all this drama, we have to at least ask the question: Was bringing virtually all sports nationwide to a sudden stop actually necessary given the numerous people and businesses that will suffer from it?
As a recent champion of the “media is overhyping this and it’s not a big deal” adage, my answer would have been no as of several days ago. That changed quickly when I dug into the numbers.
According to Worldometer, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States increased by 585 on Friday alone, which is a staggering 26 percent increase from the day prior. Viruses tend to spread exponentially, not linearly. The simple reality is by drastically reducing the number of large gatherings in the country, thousands of lives will be saved.
Critics are right when they say that the coronavirus has affected relatively few people compared to past pandemics like the Spanish flu in the early 20th century or even the swine flu from a decade ago. But a lack of present disaster is hardly grounds for irresponsible management of the future. Professional sports teams, as some of the largest proponents of putting a lot of people into a small space, have a responsibility to act.
It will be hard for many, including myself, to live without professional sports for the foreseeable future. Unlike a thrilling duel between James Harden and LeBron James, the coronavirus leaves us with no winner. We are all victims, in one way or another, of this global disaster.
In the wake of a pandemic, sports has sunk into the periphery of society. As unfortunate as that is, that’s exactly where it should be right now.