by Wendell Barnhouse
Stick to sports.
To Your Veteran Scribe’s recollection, that phrase made its debut around the time of Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police violence against blacks. The NFL quarterback’ssilent and peaceful method was to kneel during the National Anthem. It was a strategy suggested by U.S. military veteran Nate Boyer.
This story made national news headlines and created a problem for sports journalists and those who work in sports media (those professions are not synonymous). Writing about the Kaepernick controversy required mixing The Real World into the fantasy world of grown men playing a game. There was no Switzerland on this issue. Every story leaned one way or the other, even if it was a 51-49% split.
The Kaepernick controversy also came during The Time of Trump (“Get that son of a bitch off the field”) There would be no rational discussions, no thoughtful debates. The Twitter Rage Machine was at full power.
Kaepernick (and his Black Panther afro) was“disrespecting the flag, the National Anthem, our troops, our Constitution, our American
Way of Life.” Or, Kaepernick was “taking a stance for what he believes, expressing his First Amendment rights, pointing out that blacks are far more likely to experience police violence and death.”
Journalists who wrote or talked about Kaepernick got the “stick to sports” advice, which usually included a series of fck yous.
The idea of sports being walled off from The Real World, placed in its own box, has never been more stupid than during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a century since the United States faced this type of crisis and unless you’ve been assigned to the International Space Station, you’re aware that the response of the Trump administration has been a complete and abject failure.
Not only has there been a failure of leadership, but too many citizens have treated the “inconvenience” of sheltering in place (for a few weeks) or wearing a protective mask (for a few minutes) as an infringement on their rights and freedoms. Discovering a vaccine for COVID-19 tops the medical research list. Curing stupidity would be No. 2.
(Spoiler alert: It doesn’t have a cure.)
Ever since mid-March when the pandemic interrupted the wide, wide world of sports, those who write about sports and those who are fans have been jonesing for the return of athletic competition. With the all-American sport of football just over a month away, the jonesing has turned to desperation. (The sweet irony is that the college football
season is in doubt because of states in the football-mad South being helmed by Republican governors who re-opened their states too early to please Herr Trump.)
Your Veteran Scribe spent about 45 years writing about sports. I stuck to sports. Now, I’m sick of sports. Major-League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are at the re-starting gate and no doubt the NFL will move forward, come infection or high water. Fine. Whatever. Those are professional athletes represented by unions in leagues where there is enough money to test, test, test (and never mind there are regular folks who wait a week to 10 days to find out their test results).
For many, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament remains surreal. In mid-March, the idea that the plague would still be plaguing and endanger the 2020 college football season was also … surreal. Reality sucks when you’re dealing with a disease that gives no f*cks about your sports calendar.
The so-called Power Five conferences (think of them the same way as the five Mafia families before Giuliani) are desperate to play games in the fall. They need the money (especially after losing the March Madness cash) from their television deals. No games mean no revenue.
The problem is COVID-19 cases have been rising instead of falling. The idea of having hundreds of thousands of college students on campus in a month is an invitation to further curving and not flattening the curve. It also would be bad optics to have college football players on campus and practicing without students also roaming the quad, the dorms and fraternity/sorority row.
Two conferences – the Big Ten and the Pac-12 – have announced they’ll play onlyleague games. And that illustrates the problem; college football is run by the conferences with no cohesive leadership for the sport. Other conferences are delaying any similar draconian measures as they whistle past the COVID-19 graveyard.
An alternative that has been floated is to play the 2020 college football season in the spring of 2021. Real spring football. That would be one way for the conferences to still access the TV revenue. That solution appears half-baked because of certain flaws.
The NFL Draft is in April. There’s a good chance that college players who are potential first-round picks would skip a spring season. In March, college football would be in direct conflict with March Madness, the
NCAA’s signature showcase. CBS is one of the networks that televise the
tournament, but it also carries Southeastern Conference football games.
Would spring football be a full 12-game schedule? Would there be a playoff? A full slate of bowl games?
The NCAA’s musty philosophy that it is a bastion of amateur sport would be
eviscerated. If 2021 eventually brings a return to normalcy, there would be
college football in the fall. Meaning players would be expected to play 20 to 24 games in a nine- to 10-month span – all because dear ol’ State U. needs to make payroll.
The University Interscholastic League, which oversees high school sports in Texas, this week announced its plan for football. The two biggest classifications will delay the start of the season until late September; the four smaller classes can start play as if nothing
unusual is happening. The theory is that those schools are in smaller, rural areas where COVID-19 is less of a danger. If that plan is carried out, the two biggest classification would have playoffs extending into January with the possibility of playoff games on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Friday Night Lights must not be dimmed.
That can be argued is a cynical view from an old curmudgeon. The argument is “You only get to be a high school senior once. … These kids have worked hard. … They shouldn’t lose the chance to play their sport. … What about the cheerleaders, band members, dance teams?”
Should there be empathy if there is no high school football in Texas (or other states)? Certainly. But I’d rather there be empathy for the 152,000 deaths (as of this writing). I’drather parents and educators explain the harsh reality that sh*t happens, life is hard and you have to deal with its twists and turns.
Those who have died from the disease would sure as hell be happy to be alive this fall and “suffer” without football.
Stick to sports? Right now, I’m sick of sports.