A bunch of sports leagues have decided to stage their return this summer in Florida. Apparently Hades was booked for a coronavirus party.
Maybe the better way to think of it is that Florida is a coronavirus party. And the party promises to never stop.
The United States might have handled the pandemic worse than any other developed country, and Florida might have handled it worse than any other state. Sending thousands of athletes and staffers to Florida right now is like asking them to jump from the frying pan into the sun.
Restarting in Florida might be the worst idea in sports since the White Sox wore shorts. FC Dallas, in Orlando for the MLS tournament, had its Thursday game vs. Vancouver postponed because of eight positive tests. One NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, withdrew from that league’s comeback tournament after a handful of young players went to a Florida bar and later tested positive.
This is how badly these sports have miscalculated: They are getting outsmarted by Gary Bettman and Rob Manfred, the Ren & Stimpy of sports commissioners.
Bettman, who runs the NHL, took a look at the United States’ handling of the pandemic and crossed it off his list. He is expected to move the rest of his season to Toronto and Edmonton, just to be based in a country that understands that science is real whether you believe in it or not.
Manfred — a memorable figure from this summer’s disingenuous baseball negotiations — months ago considered restarting in Arizona, Texas and Florida. Then MLB must have hired someone with internet access, because he scrapped that plan.
Arizona, Florida and Texas are the Moe, Larry and Curly of the pandemic. Only recently has one of those states’ leaders begun acting like an adult. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, after watching the virus sweep through his state and overwhelm even the massive medical centers in Houston, finally mandated the wearing of masks statewide.
As a former Texas resident, I recognize this strategy. It’s known as closing the barn door after a lot of people died.
The NBA plans to return to action in Orlando. This decision was made for obvious and cynical reasons. ESPN, which has a close financial relationship with the league, is owned by Disney. Orlando is an NBA city and can offer large, entertaining bubbles in which athletes can live.
This all would make great sense if Orlando wasn’t located in Florida, and if this didn’t seem like a pure money play by Disney and ESPN, rather than a decision made in the best interests of players’ health.
Four NBA teams were recently forced to close their home workout facilities because of the virus. Are we supposed to believe that the virus will respect the borders of teams’ bubbles in Orlando, home to international tourism and many residents who think of the virus as some worldwide hoax designed to make mask manufacturers rich?
The first American pro sports league to reopen was the National Women’s Soccer League. A few younger players from the Orlando Pride went drinking in a Florida bar. Subsequently, six players and four staff members tested positive for the virus, and the team withdrew from the league’s comeback tournament, which is being played in Utah.
The WNBA is set to return at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays have started their summer training camps. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers have resumed workouts. Minnesota United and most MLS teams are practicing in Orlando, with the Loons scheduled to return to play next Sunday.
What makes anyone think any of this will work?
The most hopeful answer available is that athletes, disciplined by nature, will understand just how dangerous Florida is, and take all precautions.
For months, we’ve been wondering how basketball or soccer players can expect to sweat and breathe on each other and avoid the virus, but at least in practices and in games they are interacting with other athletes who have been tested and who have reason to be vigilant about their health.
Where their discipline will be tested is in the Florida wilds. The bars and beaches, the theme parks, the restaurants in which some of the patrons literally wouldn’t wear a mask to save your life.
Good luck with that, athletes. All you have to do is wear a mask, stay off Space Mountain, avoid the bars and shun the beaches. In other words, you might as well be in Edmonton.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org