The sequence of events is such that even Shakespeare would have a hard time deciding whether it is a comedy, a tragedy or simply history.
This past weekend: University of Florida football coach Dan Mullen declares that he wants to see 90,000 fans in the stands for Florida’s Saturday home game against LSU. “Hopefully that creates a home-field advantage for us next week because now we passed a law in our state that we can do that,” Mullen said. “We want our students out there cheering us on to give us that home-field advantage.”
Yes, he said that in all sincerity, in a state that had 123 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday alone, surpassing 15,000 lives lost in Florida during this pandemic.
Monday: Mullen holds his program up as a “model” of safety in the coronavirus era, declaring: “I’m really proud of how we’ve handled everything and how safe we’ve been with everything we’re doing and all the precautions we’ve had in place during this time.”
Tuesday: Florida announced that it had “paused” all football related activities after 19 members of the program (players, coaches and/or personnel) had tested positive for the virus.
Athletic director Scott Stricklin used the now-familiar phrase “abundance of caution” to describe the move, but it doesn’t take an abundance when you have that many positive tests. It only takes common sense.
Unfortunately, the supply of common sense has not been equally distributed among sports entities trying to play through this.
The NBA, WNBA and NHL went to a bubble format for various parts of their seasons/postseasons in an attempt to go beyond even an abundance of caution — showing a level of respect for the virus that was rewarded when they were able to complete their seasons in a Covid-free landscape. The NBA and WNBA even did so in Florida at the peak of spread there.
MLB stumbled through its season with outbreaks and on-the-fly scheduling but at least had the sense to keep fans away and create postseason bubbles (at least, um, until they let fans into the Texas playoff bubble).
The NFL is already playing a shell game with its schedule and nearly half its 32 teams have permission to have at least some fans in stadiums.
Within that context, at least the Dolphins have said they are keeping capacity capped at 13,000 even though Florida law says they could go the full Mullen and pack their stadium.
But even the Dolphins and other teams (like the Saints, who are exploring ways to play at LSU’s outdoor stadium) are still tempting fate with half-measures and a rush to get back to “normal” when things are still very much not normal.
There are varying levels of risk tolerance when it comes to Covid, which I can respect. But the common comparison I hear, to the notion of wearing a seat belt and how that was a big fight decades ago, is a false one. That’s an individual choice that has little bearing on public health beyond that person.
Packing a football stadium, as Mullen suggested he wanted, is a risk to anyone who is there and near an infected person — which, chances are, there are a lot of given the spread in Florida.
A football coach lobbying for such a thing might not be taking all the precautions seriously. You can’t draw a straight line between that and 19 positive tests, but you can draw an inference.
And you can draw a conclusion: Tempt fate with the virus, and it’s bound to win.