Column: No, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't know that reopening sports can 'be done safely'

·6 min read

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis invited teams from other states on Wednesday to the Sunshine State to play ball because “we know that it can be done safely.”

The announcement arrived days after the UFC hosted its first U.S. event since the pandemic took hold in Jacksonville.

It arrived a day after The New York Times examined how the UFC broke its own safety protocols on several occasions at UFC 249.

It arrived a day after the nation’s leading coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told the U.S. Senate that consequences of reopening too soon could be “really serious.”

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“All these professional sports are going to be welcome in Florida,” DeSantis said. “That may not be the case in every other state in this country as we’ve seen. What I would tell commissioners of leagues is if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let ‘em operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida.

“Because we think that it’s important, and we know that it can be done safely.”

NBA, MLB appear closer to returning

Desantis is courting sports as the NBA and MLB discuss how to return to the field of play.

On Tuesday, sources told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that a group of superstars including LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis met on a conference call and agreed to present a united front in support of finishing this season and crowning a champion amid proper safety measures.

Meanwhile, owners are feeling “increasingly positive” about resuming play after a call with commissioner Adam Silver, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Health and safety concerns around the ability to test players and staff for COVID-19 remain hurdles for the resumption of play, according to the report.

But if the league does resume play, it’s considering finishing its season on a “bubble” site with Orlando as a possible host, according to the report.

Meanwhile, MLB owners approved a plan on Monday that could lead to a July start to its season. Owners and players are in the midst of negotiations on what a return would look like, with talks focusing on player pay and the location of games.

Like the NBA, MLB is grappling with how to conduct a season with proper safety measures amid the ongoing pandemic. Those answers remain unclear.

Also like the NBA, Florida is being frequently floated as location to host games.

Yes, it is important to bring back sports

DeSantis is right on one point. It is important for sports to reopen.

A wounded nation seeking a semblance of a return to normalcy is craving sports. Entertainment, hospitality and media economies that depend on the existence of sports cannot see the return of actual games soon enough. Paychecks well beyond those that go to players depend on the games on the field.

It’s the other point from DeSantis that’s problematic — that confident claim that “we know that it can be done safely.”

On that point, there’s nothing to indicate DeSantis has any idea what he’s talking about.

In reopening sports, experts — not the politically motivated — should guide the way. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images)
In reopening sports, experts — not the politically motivated — should guide the way. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images)

DeSantis’ credentials, advisers

DeSantis is not an epidemiological expert. He’s a well-educated man with a history degree from Yale and a law degree from Harvard and no expertise on how to safely navigate a pandemic.

So — as an executive should — he’s assembled a task force of voices to help guide him in Florida’s quest to reopen for business. The executive committee of that task force includes a single medical voice — John Couris, the president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital.

The other 21 other voices on his executive committee largely consist of like-minded Republican office holders and corporate executives.

DeSantis is not guided by science. He’s guided by politics and business interests represented by Lockheed Martin, AT&T, Walt Disney, Raymond James and the Florida Bankers Association.

He’s also being guided by his alliance with President Donald Trump.

DeSantis’ alliance with President Trump

The president who DeSantis aligns himself with touted in February a total of 15 domestic cases of COVID-19 and that “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” That same president has pushed unfounded, dangerous medical treatments against the advice of actual medical experts. That same president suggested lethally injecting household disinfectants as a way to combat the coronavirus.

All the while, the United States has seen its numbers to grow to account for 1.3 million of the world’s 4.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases with 83,000 dead Americans, exceeding in a matter of months the entire U.S. death total from the Vietnam War, one of the nations’ greatest tragedies.

That same president is up for re-election this year. And everybody knows what the most important issue is for an incumbent. It’s the economy, stupid.

And with the U.S. economy in shambles not seen since the Great Depression, Trump is prioritizing getting it going at all costs. And his state-level allies like DeSantis and Doug Ducey in Arizona are falling in line.

Trust experts, let them lead the way

Almost all of us want sports and business to come back sooner than later. Those of us in sports media have careers that depend on it.

The pain in the larger economy is obviously real and alarming. Business interests are legitimate, and industry leaders should have a seat at the table. But they should not be driving this conversation. That purview belongs to experts like Fauci and those on the front lines of the pandemic who understand the medical realities like the rest of us don’t.

This country has been plagued by a distrust of experts, a false belief that common, uneducated voices belong elevated alongside those of people who actually know what they’re talking about. It’s a fallacy that’s caused significant harm on scientific and environmental fronts.

It’s a fallacy that’s playing a starring role amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s rearing its head in the conversation to restart sports.

Let’s get back to playing ball as soon as safely possible. Most of us want it. Some of us need it. But let’s make sure as we do, we’re listening to the experts and minimizing the risk of unnecessary death, destruction and further damage to an already battered economy.

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