Virus Outbreak Stadiums Distancing

College football stadiums like Kenan Stadium at the University of North Carolina could have few, if any fans this fall.

The first week or two was probably the toughest. For a global pandemic to happen at any point in time is horrible, but for sports fans, seeing it wipe out the state high school basketball championships, followed by March Madness, was especially painful.

Soon after, baseball’s opening day was pushed back, as was The Masters and Kentucky Derby. In Oklahoma, spring sports were canceled. We weren’t sure when we’d see live sports in America again.

In recent weeks, small rays of hope have bled through the darkness. Golf and NASCAR returned. College sports teams were allowed to reconvene this month. And in just the past few weeks, the NBA and Major League Baseball finally announced they’d be returning.

However, it’s beginning to become unclear as to whether A) that will happen and B) that should happen. I’m not saying this to be a nay-sayer, because trust me, few people want live team sports back as much as yours truly. I can only vicariously live out moments of sporting glory through video games and YouTube replays of 1990s Dallas Cowboys games for so long.

But given the fact that 16 of the 302 tests taken by NBA players (5 percent) came by positive, one has to wonder about the risks that come with 22 teams all gathered at one complex. I understand that being confined to one location does limit the potential exposure to germs associated with intrastate travel. However, it does become a situation like a household. When one family member gets a cold, it becomes almost inevitable that someone else within the residence will start showing symptoms.

Major League Baseball is not using the so-called “bubble” method, and it will be interesting to see what results that will yield. But there may already be issues, as multiple employees at Texas’ new Globe Life Field have tested positive for the coronavirus, leaving other workers “terrified” about showing up to work. Considering that many vendors, ticket-takers and ushers are older in age and are in the target demo to be more susceptible to catching it, I don’t blame them.

And then there’s the biggin’s. For a while, it looked like football could be our shining beacon of promise. After all, the pandemic started in March, a full 5+ months before teams start playing games. There was surely going to be time to get everything situated by then, yes?

Well, if the rising numbers of positive tests both within the Big 12 (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas State and more) and nationally (Clemson has had 37 football players test positive to this point) are any indicator, it’s becoming more and more of a question mark. And the NFL has already canceled the Hall of Fame game and induction ceremony. Yes, those draw thousands of fans a year, and it’s probably hard to curb attendance at an induction ceremony with basically first-come, first-served seating. But once teams report to camps and are around one another, who’s to say there aren’t more positive cases?

Then, on Saturday morning, I was on the phone with my father, from whom I inherited the sports-nut gene. When talking about the upcoming college football season, I added the caveat of “assuming we have a season”. He replied somberly and succinctly: “Glen, I don’t think we will. I just really don’t.”

To hear someone who so often had reassuring words for me when times seemed bleak, to hear those words come out of his mouth cut through me a little more sharply than I expected. It was like I was suddenly coming to a realization, like finding out your family pet didn’t actually go to live on a magical farm somewhere. Subconsciously, I think I knew. I just hadn’t admitted it out loud yet.

Within 10 minutes of getting off the phone, I learned of the first positive COVID test among Lawton Public Schools athletes. That of course puts high school football and fall prep sports in general in limbo. This was all happening one week before what would have been the weekend of the 53rd annual Firecracker Open. And while the Firecracker could still happen in the fall, nothing is guaranteed.

Yes, a fall without sports would be difficult for sports fans to cope with. But we made it through a March without Madness, and June without the NBA Finals and we will get through a July 4 without the Firecracker. We will make it through this too, as long as we all stay safe.

And as long as there are more compelling sports documentaries to watch (“Eddie” airs tomorrow night on ESPN).


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