So, April was fun, huh?
The fourth month of 2020 was one of the bleakest in our lifetimes. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire planet, with a death toll that recently exceeded 230,000 and climbing. Here in America, we have more than 1 million (documented) cases, and the loss of life — more than 63,000 souls — is incomprehensible.
The US economy shrunk in the first quarter at a rate we haven’t seen since The Great Recession. Economists believe this is just the “tip of the iceberg” in that regard. If only we could figure out a way to make the rate at which we’re producing coronavirus kits match the rate we’re seeing unemployment skyrocket, we’d be all set.
Basically, things suck right now.
All that stuff up there? That’s the important stuff. We know that at times like these, sports take a backseat to literal life and death matters, whether that’s a once-in-a-generation pandemic or a heartbreaking amount of food insecurity.
But we obviously miss sports, and we obviously want them back. We’re now 50 days into this “new normal” of having no live sports to watch. At first, it was a shock to the system. Now, you’ll have to excuse those of us who are getting a little restless. When you start to lament the lack of sports, you almost do so with a sense of guilt. We’re not trying to prioritize silly old sports over saving lives, but the sporting world makes up a big part of who we are — maybe too big, but that’s for us to grapple with on our own time.
Which brings us to Friday, May 1. With it comes the start of the most important month in the history of American sports. That’s a claim that’s hard to support with hard facts, but let’s be honest: We’re now two months into life without major American sports, and honestly, it doesn’t feel like we’re much closer to a resumption.
The sourced stories expressing feelings of optimism and positivity about a league’s potential to resume or begin its season used to be encouraging. They’ve now become frustrating, bordering on annoying.
Think about this: ESPN reported in early April that Major League Baseball was kicking around the idea of returning in May. May! Baseball also had that Arizona plan, remember that? Everyone goes to Arizona and gets in the bubble and plays the season across the Grand Canyon State’s myriad spring training facilities. Now, less than a month later, the new plan might actually be to resume spring training … in each team’s respective (big-league) city. It’s quite literally the opposite of where we began.
Baseball’s not alone, of course. The NBA had LeBron James in March saying (on multiple occasions) there was no chance in hell he’d play games without fans in attendance. Skip ahead to Thursday when James refuted a CNBC story citing executives who wanted to cancel the rest of the season and playoffs.
Saw some reports about execs and agents wanting to cancel season??? That’s absolutely not true. Nobody I know saying anything like that. As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything. ?
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 30, 2020
The NHL is all over the place, too. Six days ago, talks between the NHL and NHLPA about a return reportedly were intensifying. Four days later, a new report indicating the two factions hadn’t decided on any dates yet.
Even the smart people don’t know. Dr. Anthony Fauci just two weeks ago laid out how sports could “safely” return this summer, albeit without fans. Two days ago, he said some sports might have to “bite the bullet.” Yikes.
It’s terribly confusing and probably isn’t good for our collective mental health, but what else can we do right now?
The one constant, it seems, since the leagues pulled their respective plugs in late March was that May would be the month where tough decisions would have to be made. Well, May is here, and it’s nut-cutting time.
The problem, of course, is no one wants to make “that decision.” The NHL is reportedly watching closely as the NBA might slowly let its teams get back to work next Friday. That itself might be easier said than done, with states like Massachusetts (May 18) and Ohio (May 29) extending stay-at-home advisories. But if the NHL is watching the NBA closely, and the NBA can’t make up its own mind, where does that leave us?
“It’s hard to lead by consensus in a crisis,” an NBA general manager told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
At some point, someone has to lead. Someone must make a plan and stick to it. Oh, and the leagues have to do so while also getting buy-in from the players, which is easier said than done, as the New York Post reported Friday.
Obviously, a lot will depend on an improvement in a woefully underwhelming testing capacity. We’re getting to a point where sports fans might almost prefer cancellations. The mental yo-yo is getting exhausting, especially if we’re all just waiting on nothing.
This will take an economic toll on all the leagues ($12 billion, already!), even the mighty NFL, which you better believe is watching this all unfold with bated breath. Teams, players, officials, leagues, TV networks, media and fans alike have varying levels of skin in the game.
Money has been lost, and morale is low. Safely returning to the arena or field would help on both accords, but decision time is nearing, for better or worse.