Dan Carney, USA TODAY
Published 5:00 a.m. ET May 15, 2020
The addictive power of televised sports is a plus. If you’re home on your couch, you’re not spreading or catching the coronavirus at a tattoo parlor.
Barring a last minute change of heart by Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany on Saturday will become the first country to reinstate big-time sports. True, Taiwanese baseball is up and running, as are various games in places like Belarus. But Germany’s soccer league, known as the Bundesliga, is the first restart of a sports enterprise with a global audience and player salaries that can stretch into eight figures.
This is a big deal — for Germany because it highlights its success so far in bringing down its COVID-19 cases. But it is a potential game changer for other nations as well. Soccer commentators elsewhere, who would normally have their own leagues to worry about, have been fussing about the Bundesliga in recent days.The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s London tabloid, has even taken to running photo spreads of the wives and girlfriends of German players — with a thematic focus on those who make a living as supermodels and are clad in swimwear.
Here at home, our leagues have shown more caution. On Monday, Major League Baseball floated the idea of a July resumption, while the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have been more circumspect. The PGA, which senses an opportunity since golf can be played while still observing social distancing guidelines, has announced it will resume its tour June 11.
Sports is a comfort amid COVID stress
There are, of course, downsides to all of this. Even though games will be played without audiences, teams themselves can be conduits for the spread of the coronavirus. And each league that resumes puts pressure on others to do so as well.
This week, England’s top soccer league considered restarting in early June — a move driven by fear that its fans could get too cozy with German soccer, not by the United Kingdom’s progress in fighting the pandemic. In this country, Major League Soccer and possibly the National Women’s Soccer League could do a quick restart, and not for necessarily the right reasons. Though both leagues would face considerable hurdles, they are not unaware of the fact that being the only game in town for a few weeks could help promote their sport to audiences that generally prefer other sports like football and basketball.
For all the downsides, however, there are also huge upsides to the resumption of sports. One is the psychological one. At a time of great stress and anxiety, sports is a comfort. The world needs sports. America needs sports!
Another, more tangible, benefit is that most people watching games on television are doing so at home when they otherwise could be out and about, potentially acquiring or spreading COVID-19.
It’s our duty to stay home on the couch
In normal times, we might grouse about the addictive power of televised sports and how it keeps people on their couches when they could be doing something more active. Now, the opposite is true. It is our duty as concerned Americans to watch more sports. So, let the games begin.
Consider the simple math. The numbers needed to put on a game without a live audience are in the dozens. If 1 million people watch it at home, well, that’s a lot of people. Even if just 1% of them would otherwise be doing something silly, like piling into some public venue that is already saturated, or going out to get another tattoo, that’s 10,000 people out of harm’s way, at least for a few hours.
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Games played on weekend afternoons would be particularly helpful because that’s when people most want to be out. And men’s sports — which constitutes the bulk of all sports — would be the best, because they attract a largely male audience, which would appear to be the cohort of people most likely to flaunt social distancing guidelines. They certainly make up the bulk of the faces at protests.
To be clear, the absence of sports is not the most important problem this nation faces. But, if done right, the resumption of sports — some sports, at least — could be part of the solution. At minimum, it would be a very pleasant distraction while we grapple with some very tough issues.
Dan Carney is an editorial writer for USA TODAY. Follow him on Twitter: @dancarney301
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