AuthorZirin, Dave

In the world of sports, we are in a time without precedent and without a compass. We are lost in the woods, with no idea how to find our way out.

The NBA was the first domino, canceling its season, followed by the NHL, the NCAA's men's and women's March Madness tournaments, Major League Baseball spring training, scouting trips by the NFL, NASCAR, and everybody else. Across the world, India is shutting down cricket while UEFA has postponed the 2020 European Football Championship until 2021 and England's Premier League is closed.

Now we prepare for a life without sports, a stunning development. Sports kept going during two world wars and the 1918 influenza pandemic. Sports help keep up morale and a sense of normalcy during times of crisis. During the First World War, Woodrow Wilson said, "I hope that sports will be continued as a real contribution to the national defense." Franklin Roosevelt spoke similarly during World War II.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 infected 500 million people, one third of the world's population at the time, and killed an estimated fifty million including 675,000 in the United States. Unlike the coronavirus, high mortality rates occurred in the twenty-to-forty-years-old age range, and officials became wildly concerned, with public gatherings strongly discouraged.

While MLB's season ended right before the pandemic erupted, the 1918 World Series saw the banning of the "spitball" due to health concerns. And yet, it wasn't canceled--despite multiple players dying after contracting the flu, and the famed Babe Ruth contracting it twice.

Even 9/11 delayed NFL games by only one week. What's happening now is different because, instead of sports becoming a distraction from national calamity, sports teams could have become a traveling road show of disease clusters, a band of Patient Zeros, traveling from city to city, infecting fans along the way.

This is why it took Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19, and spreading the disease to his All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell, to wake the sports world up to the reality that it was not immune. In one day, the NBA went from merely saying that players should fist bump instead of high-fiving fans, to shutting the whole multibillion-dollar operation down.

This was the correct decision for public safety, but it's hell on the low-wage stadium and arena...

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