Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 13, 2020

Sports should not be a priority when reopening the economy

By ERIC LYNCH | May 1, 2020

Earlier this April, President Trump proposed that sporting events should be brought back as soon as possible, giving them high priority in his plan to reopen the economy. Later in the month, Trump assembled his 200-person advisory committee that would help facilitate restarting economic activities. That committee included the commissioners of the NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL, UFC, PGA and NASCAR. It also included some of the wealthiest sports team owners in the country. That means that at least five percent of this 200-person committee is going to be focused on sports.

Now, bringing back sports sooner rather than later would have some positive effects. As Trump hopes, it would get more money flowing through the economy. It would also give a cure for quarantine boredom, giving people another reason to stay inside. Sports can also be a source of unity locally and nationally, which is always important in times of crisis. And of course it would benefit people like Trump, who owns several golf courses.

This proposal benefits the people who are stuck at home, and it could help the economy, so why not do it? 

There’s one important stakeholder here that hasn’t been considered: the players. These players have sports unions and spokespeople, and not one of them was invited to join the President’s advisory committee. 

It is no surprise that people are unwilling to listen to players’ concerns, as the dehumanization of athletes has been an issue for a long time. Fans often think they can say whatever they want to athletes; a Utah Jazz fan was banned from his team’s arena last year for racially insulting Russell Westbrook. Additionally, athletes are often asked to risk their bodies for the sake of the sport. Raptors fans cheered loudly when Kevin Durant injured his Achilles tendon during last season’s NBA Finals. This lack of sympathy for athletes is showing again through this proposed reopening of sports.

MLB proposed a plan that would have all 30 teams assemble in Arizona and isolate themselves from everyone else to avoid spreading coronavirus (COVID-19). This isolation plan includes isolation from family members. Several players have come out to oppose this plan. There is no reason these athletes should have to be away from their families for an indefinite amount of time while other non-essential workers are still not allowed to work. Many of these athletes have young children, and it would be inhumane to separate them until quarantine is lifted for the sake of entertainment. 

Similarly, there are hundreds of athletes in each of these leagues, and the prospect of playing against one another again is certainly risking the spread of COVID-19. Most of these players are young and healthy, putting them at low risk of dying from the disease. But data are showing that the chance of hospitalization and death for young people is definitely not zero, not to mention the fact that many coaches and other staff members are well within the most at-risk age groups. 

Several athletes have already tested positive for the disease, and it would certainly spread if all of the players, coaches, trainers and umpires were all gathered in one space. There is no reason to risk the spread of COVID-19 just so all of us at home have something to watch. 

Although the return of sports may benefit the viewer at home, it certainly would not benefit the attendee at a game. Yes, this MLB plan includes playing with no fans, but Trump stated very clearly that he wants fans to be able to return to sports games in person soon. 

This would be disastrous. In early March, before the disease had widely spread in America, five people died from COVID-19 after attending a high school basketball game. Sports arenas are a textbook example of how to spread a disease; they keep fans close together in a closed space, breathing the same air and spreading germs. Besides, a recent Seton Hall University poll showed that 72 percent of Americans would not attend a sports game until a vaccine is developed anyway, so there is no reason to try to make this happen.

This is not solely an issue of Trump saying things he shouldn’t be. In fact, this isn’t even an issue of Republican leaders prioritizing the economy over other important issues. Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic leader of New York who has been praised for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is also eyeing a return of sports in his state. Cuomo assembled his team of businessmen to help reopen New York’s economy. This list included James Dolan, owner of the Knicks and the Rangers, as well as the Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon. Once again, the players have been left out of the discussion. 

Why are American leaders so obsessed with restarting sports as soon as possible? Honestly, I have no idea. Perhaps Trump wants his golf course revenue to return. Perhaps these leaders want to distract the American people from their mishandling of the pandemic. Maybe they just want something people can watch to make them feel better right now. But to me, there is an endless list of businesses that need the attention and priority that sports are currently getting, and it is the duty of our leaders to prioritize health, wellbeing and essential economic activity over our entertainment. 

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