When the president wants a meeting, you take the meeting. This is, perhaps, especially true when your business has ground to a halt in the middle of a global pandemic.
So Saturday afternoon the leaders of the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, NASCAR, MLS, PGA, LPGA, Breeders’ Cup, UFC and WWE got on a conference call with Donald Trump to discuss the current state of the business of sports in America … of which there isn’t much. Maybe all together, though, someone could figure this out.
Trump was Trump, a source said. Confident and aspirational, although such emotions do little in the face of reality. Details were scarce, mainly because they are impossible. It's the wall that everyone is banging their heads against.
Trump said he wanted the NFL to start on time in the fall. So does the NFL.
Trump said he wanted the suspended seasons of other sports leagues to end as soon as possible. So do those leagues.
Trump said he wanted fans back in stands as early as August. So would everyone.
“They want to get back. They gotta get back. They can't do this,” Trump said later Saturday at a media briefing. “Their sports weren't designed for it. The whole concept of our nation wasn't designed for it. We're gonna have to get back. We want to get back soon.”
If it’s possible, of course. If it’s safe. If it doesn’t undermine all the work and loss and sacrifice done so far.
And that’s the problem.
Everyone wants a return to normal. Trump isn't wrong. No one is wrong for wanting such things. Unfortunately, wanting it isn’t enough.
Professional sports aren’t just big business, with billions and billions in direct economic impact stretching across the country. They’re an important entertainment distraction for a public that with each day grows more isolated and more weary of the relentless battle we are dealing with.
No one is suggesting it is more important than finding a vaccine, or an antidote, or getting more masks to first responders or personal protective equipment to nurses or mass testing ability to epidemiologists so we can even hope to get a handle on this.
Our logistical response to this has to be first priority.
Sports can offer a diversion, though. A few hours of relief. That’s always been the case. During long wars and great economic upheaval through the decades, societies around the world have sought a haven for the mental fatigue of the grind.
This should be no different, as Americans are dealing with anxiety over health, jobs, family, and so on. It’s grim out there. It’s going to get grimmer. No, getting to watch the Lakers play the Clippers (on TV or in person) wouldn’t solve that, but as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone, it sure wouldn’t hurt.
Those first games, whenever they are, will be a massive boost for morale and a symbol of success.
Right now there is little happening in the space, causing ripple effects not just to millions of fans desperate for something unserious to focus on but throughout media, marketing, advertising and a host of other industries that serve sports and entertainment.
Other than that, not much. Maybe by early June we get a second Phil vs. Tiger from the PGA Tour — this time complete with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as playing partners.
So talk about the NFL season by September, or fans in the stands of baseball stadiums by August, may be just wishful thinking. Without a vaccine, anything that would reignite the spread of the disease seems unhealthy, at least with what we currently know. Fans filling sports arenas (or concert venues, fairs, parade routes to anything else) would likely fall into that.
Large gatherings just don’t seem plausible for a while. Trump isn’t committing to anything before September. Here’s hoping that changes.
The leagues are brainstorming non-stop. Play the entire NBA playoffs in an empty casino. Do baseball in empty stadiums. Do this, try that. They’ve got time to dream.
At this point though, it’s just a dream. The medical officials are going to decide a lot of this, and right now, there are far too many unknowns, and stakes that are far too high, to make a bold plan or set a clear date.
Trump, per the White House, acknowledged the good many sports leagues, teams and owners are doing in their respective communities. And there has been plenty of that, from a plane full of masks courtesy of the New England Patriots to hockey players donating to cover the wage losses of popcorn and beer vendors in their stadiums.
It’s nice. It’s great. It should be celebrated.
That isn’t what any of them want to be doing, though. They want to get back to business. Trump wants them to get back to business. Almost all of us want them to get back to business.
When that is, however, remains unknown. Against this coronavirus, unfortunately, not even a president can just wish things into existence.
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