The show must go on amid a flood of COVID-19 cases because, well, the pro sports establishment says so – The Globe and Mail

Old Trafford is seen after Manchester United's match against Brentford at the Brentford Community Stadium was postponed due to positive coronavirus tests among players and staff, in Manchester, Britain, on Dec. 14.JASON CAIRNDUFF/Reuters
Like every other sports league, the English Premier League has been flooded by new COVID-19 cases over the past week or so.
Like every other league, they’ve made a big deal about “upgrading COVID protocols” (no more team sleepovers, I guess). Like the rest, they’ve postponed a few games here and there.
But unlike every other league, someone in the EPL piped up with the bright idea of calling a general halt until things are brought under control.
The voice in the wilderness here was Brentford FC, a club whose total annual budget is about the size of Manchester United’s landscaping bill.
“To postpone [the entire slate of games] would give everyone a week at least … to clean and do everything at the training ground so everything is clean and you break the chain,” Brentford’s manager, Thomas Frank, said in a news conference.
While Frank was talking, a club official came in to tell him four more of his guys had tested positive.
England is pretty close to the per-capita world leader in new cases. The government is mulling over another full lockdown. If there is another country on Earth with conditions better primed for panic, I can’t imagine where it would be. And what was the Premier League’s response to Frank?
“Er, no. No, we’re not doing that.”
The idea was dismissed so perfunctorily that no formal statement was required. It was just a “No” to anyone who asked.
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Sports has been at the leading edge of the general COVID-19 response since the beginning. Where sports goes, the bulk of society follows.
When sports freaked out at the beginning, so did everyone else. When sports said it was okay to go back to work (as long as you fenced your space and acted as if every person you met was dusted in Anthrax), people did that, too.
When sports eased up, everybody exhaled. Sports has been following the Florida protocols ever since – yes, there are rules, but, you know, rules.
Now that Omicron is upon us, sports is lighting the path again. They’re all getting it, and no one in the set-up cares.
They’ll pretend they care. They won’t actually play games if a critical mass of people have tested positive. They’ll go so far to pull a few teams out of the schedule for a short pause, as the NHL did on Friday.
But there is no suggestion that zero covid is a possibility. We’re into a phase of permanent accommodation with the virus.
Once again, sports is the perfect pandemic mirror of society. COVID-19 may not be over, but absent some concrete and genuinely alarming new information, people are through with it.
How else would you explain 10,000 regulars still showing up at a Leafs game?
These people have access to the news, which has tilted into hysteria in the last little while. They know the place has a roof. They understand that particles in the air do not pass through concrete.
Yet these fans don’t just gather for hours at a time, they’re paying for the privilege.
It’s not hard to follow the logic that prompts reasonable people who might otherwise be worried to show up at the hockey game anyway: “If it was really that bad, these pampered rock stars and all their flunky doctors would be the first to know. They don’t seem worried. So why should I be?”
On one channel, some interchangeable medical whatever of health is telling you for the 600th time to think seriously about how much you want to risk by hosting your May two-four/Thanksgiving/birthday/Christmas dinner. A hundred channels up the dial, the population of a small town is wedged into a room together, whooping it up in various states of maskless disarray.
This dissonance is so jarring, even the most knee-jerk rule obeyers must be tempted to rebel.
On the rare occasion the pros do break ranks, it’s not out of fear of COVID-19. It’s out of frustration with the competitive disadvantages it causes.
On Thursday, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield decided to go all Howard Beale on the NFL. Mayfield is out after a positive test. On Thursday, his backup tested positive. By the weekend, Brownie the Elf might be Cleveland’s quarterback.
“Make up your damn mind on protocols,” Mayfield tweeted. “Showing up and making only 3 teams test?!? All so you can keep the game as scheduled to make money.”
It’s probably a bit late in the day for Mayfield, who makes US$10-million a year, to declare war on behalf of the proletariat. But it never stops anyone, does it?
What does the average citizen take from Mayfield’s tweet? That it’s business as usual. Sports has taken the full measure of the pandemic and absorbed it into its own melodrama.
Instead of, “Should we playing these games on substandard turf?”, or “Should we play in a hurricane?”, it’s now “Should we play if half the team has COVID and the backups’ backups are starting?”
In all cases, the answer from the league is yes.
This past week has featured the biggest aggregate sports outbreak since the beginning of this thing. And COVID-19 can’t get any real purchase on the news cycle. The biggest story of the week was the Jacksonville Jaguars firing their nitwit of a coach.
There’s still a lot of discussion of the protocols. As was pointed out to me this week, nobody in sports gets COVID-19 any more – they “enter the protocols.” This sort of specialist nomenclature is purpose-designed to zone people out of what might otherwise attract their interest. It’s the 2021 version of an “upper body injury.”
In that and every other sense, pro sports is now acting in direct opposition to the most cautious/alarmist elements of the medical and media establishments.
Based on the number of bums still in seats and leagues that just keep trucking through however many positive tests, sports isn’t just winning that public-opinion tug of war. It doesn’t even have to try very hard any more to do so. All it has to do is keep showing up.
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