This being a sports column, the question right now is, what does the coronavirus and its spread mean for athletes, teams, franchises, tournaments, schools and, of course, fans?
It means a lot.
As you know, sporting events around the world are being canceled left and right, and other games are being played in front of no one.
Last week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told players the league might have to close its doors to spectators sometime in the near future. Ever heard a serious basketball game played in an empty gym? All you hear are grunts, squeaking shoes and whistles. Get a pillow, and it could be nap time.
Lakers superstar LeBron James, never the shrinking violet when it comes to opinion, said simply of the empty arena possibility, “I ain’t playing.’’
He softened his stance Tuesday, saying he wasn’t aware that the league actually was discussing the possibility. He said that, though he’d be disappointed, if the league believes it’s in everyone’s best interests, so be it.
Maybe there could be piped-in crowd noise and a green-screen fake crowd, if TV networks diddle with the whole process and try to make it seem normal.
But really, what such change makes one wonder about is this: Are we preparing properly for a health scourge on the level of an invading army? Or are we overreacting to a virus that is different from the common flu, more deadly even, but that will make X-amount of people sick but soon be under control?
We don’t know.
The ripple effect of people not going places, crowds not forming, public forums being shunned, games being treated like private meetings between executives will be perhaps as devastating in its way as the actual disease. We are a consumer-based economy. People hunkering down at home with cans of food, bundles of toilet paper, silent cars in the garage, bug-eyed with terror is not a recipe for consumption.
The sports cancellations go on, following the lead of entire countries — such as Italy — that are nearly on total lockdown. The always hugely attended BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, which was scheduled to start today, was abruptly canceled Sunday by organizers because of coronavirus anxiety. Half a million people usually attend.
Said veteran sports promoter and agent Donald Dell to USA Today: “If Indian Wells cancels, that is a real sign we’re in a serious situation.’’
Can you imagine Ireland canceling all St. Patrick’s Day parades? It happened. Boston, too. And we’re awaiting word on our St. Patrick’s Day parades downtown and on the South Side. How about Tokyo canceling its annual Cherry Blossom Festival? Done.
Huge Texas music gathering South by Southwest, World Cup skiing finals in Europe, the Chinese Grand Prix of auto racing. Over.
As local games and tournaments are reviewed almost moment to moment based on the latest news of the virus, it’s hard to make plans, both for athletes and those around them.
You have travel plans for March Madness? Might want to reconsider.
The nonprofit National College Players Association, which advocates for college players’ safety, told the NCAA that there “should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present. ... The NCAA and its colleges must act now, there is no time to waste.”
NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline responded that the organization is “actively monitoring COVID-19 in the United States.” Meaning?
Well, the Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tourneys, and the general public won’t be allowed into the Mid-American and Big West tournaments.
No, it’s not looking good for sports right now.
It is interesting that common influenza virus strains kill up to 650,000 people worldwide every year, and yet we don’t freak out. Why not? It’s hard to say. The coronavirus has killed more than 4,000 globally so far, and we are fighting it like a raging forest fire.
Maybe that’s best. Better to have the negative that didn’t explode than the positive that did.
Of course, the free press is getting whacked, too. All the major pro leagues in the U.S. have banned media from their locker rooms.
And our biggest thought is the Tokyo Summer Olympics in July. Will they be held? And if so, how will they be held? Under what conditions?
As fate has it, I have a daughter-in-law who is a French Olympic swimmer. Her name is Beryl, and she’s married to my son, Zack. They live in Texas. She was in the Games in Rio in 2016 and is training hard for Tokyo.
I asked her Tuesday afternoon what she thought about the downbeat possibilities.
“The Olympics without spectators,” she said after a spell, with sadness. “They ought to just cancel.”
Seems like a trend.