Is that ball even playable?

All the leagues will be giving it a try, but they’re at the mercy of a mysterious, deadly virus.

Sporting events won’t look the same once they resume in the age of COVID-19.

Sporting events won’t look the same once they resume in the age of COVID-19.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

First off, remember this is a new world.

Unless you’re over, say, 105 and have a very good memory, you don’t know what it’s like to live through a pandemic like this, and live beyond.

The Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 was a terrible thing. But it ended.

I can just faintly remember the tail end of the polio epidemic in this country, and it was bad for little kids, and it scared the crap out of me. But it, too, ended.

COVID-19? We may have to live with this thing for a while. Maybe a long while. Maybe forever.

So when you think about the weird ways we will be engaging with sports as we slowly come out of total lockdown, remember this: Nobody really knows what is going on.

From scientists to snake-handling lunatics, the only genuine and accurate response to a mysterious, deadly virus is: We don’t know what the future holds.

MLB wants to start play sometime this summer, maybe July, maybe with limited travel, neutral-site playoffs and God knows how the details of such a venture might be worked out.

It won’t be easy. The money part alone, the divide between owners and players, and who gets what — or, more precisely, who doesn’t get what — could be a deal-breaker.

Spitting, sunflower seeds, chew, getting in an umpire’s face and spraying him with moisture droplets — all taboo. Keeping your ‘‘social distance,’’ pitchers not allowed to ‘‘go to the mouth,’’ no ‘‘moistening’’ your glove’s pocket, no high-fives, no showers even! On and on.

Then think about housing, locker rooms, empty or partly filled stands. No announcers onsite. No press in the clubhouse.

Would it be baseball?

Well, of course. Sort of.

Hmm. Maybe not really.

Same with the NFL and the NBA.

The NFL wants to get its $10 billion-a-year monolith rolling this fall. The NBA suspended its season in March, and it’s also got a bunch of money rolling on restarting games in some way, in some place.

Word has it the NBA could play all its games at a Disney sports complex — ‘‘Throw the jump ball, Goofy!’’ — and its rosters are smaller than in other team sports, and testing would be easier, and it halfway seems possible for the league to relaunch.

But the NFL unveiled its 2020 schedule in early May, and commissioner Roger Goodell admitted there was no guarantee any of the games would be played.

The NFL would make decisions based on ‘‘medical and public-health advice, in compliance with government regulations,’’ Goodell said.

He added that everything would be done ‘‘to protect the health of our fans, players, club and league personnel, and our communities.”

That’s just about everybody, isn’t it?

Again, nobody knows the future.


What researchers do know is that this virus will mutate. It’s what unthinking, parasitic strands of RNA or DNA do. Indeed, some scientists fear a worse rebound of variant COVID-19 in the fall, especially if we relax safety protocols too fast.

People wait for a COVID vaccine. Yet some researchers say a miracle vaccine may never be assembled. Remember, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was identified 30 years ago, and there still is no vaccine for it.

So big-time, spectator-loving sports — from pro leagues to college conferences, from skating to tackling — may be our venture into the unknown.

The athletes themselves will be the canaries in the coal mine. We’ll watch the games not only wondering about the outcome, but also about who might get sick, who could be a silent carrier, where the dumb, unseen thing that is said to ‘‘teeter on the boundaries of what is considered life’’ might be.

It won’t be cool or fascinating or even as much fun to watch these sports as in the old days. But they’ll be sports.

This is a new world. We’re not going back to 2019. Never.

Handshakes? Big hugs with old pals?


Scientists marvel that Japan, which has not quarantined, has so few COVID deaths. There appears to be no one reason for the success, but consider two contributing possibilities floated by researchers: Japan has a culture of wearing masks in public, and the language itself may produce less spray.

So bring on the games. But be ever so careful.

Lord help us if some athlete gets very ill or dies.

But risk is all we have for certain these days. Changes in everything we do and think we know will happen on the fly.

That much is certain.

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