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NBA

Sports Leagues Have Stopped Even Pretending To Give A Shit

Cowboys fans
(Photo by Ronald Martinez - Getty Images)

This is all drearily unsurprising, I guess, but it’s no less noteworthy or historically significant for being right in line with all the other daily stupidities of our insane and terminally be-shitted country: Our various billion-dollar sports leagues are completely giving up on participating in what any reasonable person would consider appropriate safety measures during really any stage, but in particular our current stage, of this damn pandemic. Infections are increasing exponentially. Deaths are on the rise. There is nothing whatsoever to indicate that anything short of another round of shutdown protocols will flatten the curve, because that is the only thing that worked the first time around. Sports leagues are responding to all this by no longer even pretending to give a shit, which would almost be refreshing if it weren’t so reckless.

If you do not find this graph existentially terrifying, you are either an insane person or you have been so desensitized to our nightmare times that you are becoming an insane person:

A graph showing the current spike in new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., as of the afternoon of November 11.
The rate of new COVID-19 cases in the United States as of November 10. (Screenshot: Google)

There were 245 total cases of COVID-19 infection across the entire U.S. on March 11. The NBA is gearing up to start the 2020-21 season on December 22. Every day this week has produced more than 130,000 new COVID-19 cases. There were almost six times as many deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday of this week (1,448) as there were total cases across the United States on March 11. March 11 is significant, as that was the day the NBA shut itself down mid-season, literally while teams were taking the court to play games, due to a small outbreak on one team. We have not learned anything about COVID-19 since that day to make it any less frightening or the situation any less urgent. Quite the opposite: We have learned that even with the public going above and beyond the lackluster response of their own various levels of government, COVID-19 can still kill a quarter-million of us in just over nine months.

When the NBA entered the Orlando bubble, on July 30, there were 69,000 cases, but the curve was more-or-less flat and the country was more-or-less shut down. PPP funds were being distributed to businesses, CARES Act checks were fresh in people’s bank accounts, and federal pandemic unemployment payments were flowing (for those of us who are not governed by the sorts of punishing, byzantine state-level bureaucracies that are all but designed to thwart access to any sort of social safety net. Looking at you, Maryland). When the NBA picks back up again in December, it will do so during a nationwide crisis that will make the spooky hours of early March and the exasperated days of late July look like a beach vacation.

We will be 50 days deeper into the temper tantrum of a moron lame-duck President hell-bent on destroying the very concept of democratic elections, and we will be 40 days deeper into a coronavirus infection spike that absolutely fucking towers over anything to come before it. And the NBA will be picking up again in front of a nation that has lost the political will, the personal resources, and the attention span to do anything to manage at least the latter of those conditions, if not both. And they will be picking up without a bubble, with more teams, with travel, and with fans in the stands. And their reason for pushing forward with this ambitious plan is in order to facilitate a return to a normal 82-game schedule for the following season, which is definitely not something that anyone involved should be giving a shit about if they’ve seen that damn graph up there.

The NBA must be taking their cues from the NFL and college sports. The NFL had at least 56 positive COVID-19 cases last week, but not a single one that forced a schedule change of any sort. Fascinatingly, the only positive test to be reported over the weekend was of a player on a team on their bye week. In what is one of the great unbroken streaks of good fortune in the history of organized human activity, every NFL week that passes sees the majority of its positive tests come in the first part of the week, with ample time for the player to enter COVID-19 protocols and return to action before the weekend. There is for sure nothing fishy at all about this.

It’s not evident that anyone involved is either concerned about the wellbeing of players or ashamed of this brazen underreporting. But every conveniently timed batch of infections represents a little game of Russian roulette, a scenario that puts the long-term health or even the lives of at minimum a couple dozen players and their family members in immediate danger. I don’t think anyone cares! The foundational premise—that there will be NFL games on the television every Sunday thru the fall and winter, come hell or high water—is so well settled by now that it may as well be given its own zip code. The positive tests are just the cost of that, and anyway that’s all being handled by someone else.

College football, of course, is a complete mess, with teams just staggering around their regions of the map hoping to bump into another team with enough uninfected players to stage an even half-credible contest:

It was at least in part the sudden NBA shutdown back in March that got everyone to sit up and take this thing more seriously. The league got a lot of credit and praise for sprinting through the end of their season in the bubble and protecting their workers from the virus. But now they seem to have gotten in line behind the other sports leagues and joined the insanely, hilariously misguided resumption of business as usual, at the very worst possible time. God knows how bad things will be a month from now—planning for a season that is less secure and more like pre-pandemic times than the one improvised over the summer is fucking lunacy.

The sports leagues gestured at giving a shit, and for a while one or two of them even put on a good show of it. But the logistical hurdles of vigilance and a society-wide tsunami of impatience and stupidity ultimately have swept them all toward the same absolutely doomed performance of normalcy that is feeding this ongoing surge of cases. The cost is still being calculated.