Voids of summer: summer return to sports looks less feasible

As trivial as they can be when compared to all of the continually growing statistics and issues affecting the world amid the coronavirus pandemic, the absence left by the suspension of sports and live events remains a hard pill to swallow for many.

Figuring out how to bring sports back while the coronavirus continues to spread has become a major talking point culturally and politically in the month-plus since the NBA started the suspension wave. Outside of salvaging a severe economic downturn, getting back to sports has been on the tongues of top government officials, including President Donald Trump. It’s why Trump is seeking the input of nearly every major sports league commissioner, UFC president Dana White and WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon for his economic recovery task force.

Evidence of such came last week when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared nationally broadcasted sports and entertainment companies as essential businesses in the state of Florida, citing the public is “starved” for live entertainment. That decision was met with heavy criticism for multiple reasons, but it also speaks to how far some in the nation will go in service of a distraction from the constant drip of dourness.

DeSantis’ decision aside, the focus is turning to when and how sports can resume while the nation tries to “flatten the curve.” Many organizations have looked to the summer as the promised land for when they can retake the field, but those plans are starting to appear more and more unlikely.

You only need to turn to the world of professional wrestling to see how deep the problem’s tendrils reach. Pro wrestler and producer of the LGBTQ-focused event “Butch vs. Gore,” Billy Dixon announced Thursday that his pro wrestling meets ballroom culture “dream” event Paris is Bumping is being postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. “I apologize for not coming to this decision sooner, but I had hope. I really held out on a miracle here,” Dixon wrote. “I will not be able to live with the guilt of having the show early just for the sake of having one of the performers or fans get sick because of my selfishness.”

The cancellation of pro wrestling events like “Paris is Bumping,” alongside those of national sports organizations outside of WWE, isn’t surprising. Especially after the 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed to 2021 last month.

The cause for concern as it applies to Dixon’s announcement is that “Paris is Bumping” wasn’t scheduled to take place until June 18; well past the May 1 date targeted by the Trump administration as when it aims to reopen the nation’s businesses and the various dates that several states’ “stay at home” orders are set to expire currently.

It’s a grim reminder that the summer may not be the goalpost for getting sports back on the field as current discussions suggest. Both the NBA and NHL continue to analyze how feasible finishing their seasons during the summer is while MLB is evaluating the implementation of a decidedly odd strategy to start its delayed season exclusively in some combination of Arizona and Florida. Those plans remain nebulous as the WNBA holds its draft virtually after delaying the start of its season indefinitely.

That same fate could befall the NFL, which is set to host its own virtual draft. Especially after news Wednesday that Los Angeles Rams center Brian Allen became the first NFL player to test positive for COVID-19. Denver Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller, who is asthmatic, revealed he also tested positive on Friday.

Allen and MIller’s diagnoses comes as the NFL is reportedly weighing their options in regards to holding the 2020-21 season in some form. According The Washington Post’s Matt Maske and Dave Sheinin, the league is looking at everything from shortening the season to contesting games in empty stadiums while planning to start the season in September as scheduled.

Football and other fall college sports are facing the same unknown horizon, with the NCAA’s massive financial losses due to the cancellation of March Madness continuing to ripple through the economy of college athletics. Those economic fears gained traction after the University of Cincinnati shuttered its men’s soccer program on Tuesday with “the financial uncertainty caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic” cited as one reason by UC athletic director John Cunningham.

Major League Soccer confirmed the soonest they would resume their season is June 8 on Friday as the league and the MLSPA are reportedly discussing drastic cuts to player salaries.

Even we here at Outsports felt the effect of this fog by transitioning our Outsports Pride event scheduled for June to a virtual format.

One of the few sports that has found a way to continue is auto racing thanks to iRacing’s prominence on the esports circuit, though that partnership has produced a number of PR blunders, including NASCAR driver Kyle Larson being fired from Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur during a stream.

The list extends further but there’s one common thread for all included: the summer of 2020 is looking less like the godsend public figures and “starved” sports fans pegged it to be with each passing day. Even as the nation’s top authority on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, outlined how sports could begin to return, the end seems further out of reach as we all may want.

Should the summer provide the right circumstances to get sports underway again, the fans who are missing them likely won’t be quick to return to the stands on the same timetable. A poll conducted by Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business found that 72% of sports fans wouldn’t attend live sporting events before the creation of a viable coronavirus vaccine. With the prospects for a coronavirus vaccine not likely coming for at least a year, the stands would likely remain sparse to empty even after fans are allowed back into stadiums. And fears of a second wave of coronavirus cases in the fall and winter won’t settle those worries.

You can turn the sports scrying mirror any which way you want, but it is hard to see a future where the summer provides a salve to a sports climate on pause. The pandemic remains a fluid situation, meaning a solution could rise quicker than experts predict, but the more likely outcome is that reruns, eNASCAR and novelty competitions will fill out the sports menu for the foreseeable future.

And that is OK. If it means that we continue to halter communal spread and ease our strained healthcare system and social programs, it is OK. Summer looks plenty appetizing but, if sports have taught us anything, you can’t rush something and expect it to be as great as it can be.

If that isn’t enough reason to ease the malaise of sports’ absence, maybe we need to shift our focus toward why a summer return is likely a bad idea. It’s hard to imagine a sports organization not taking a financial hit, large or small, as a result of this crisis, but people matter more. And people are hurting and worried about matters that carry much higher stakes than Sunday Night Baseball.

That is something that Dixon, who has been working on the front lines as an essential worker, knows firsthand. “I know that when we do get our chance, we will create fantastic art. We ain’t going nowhere… I ask one thing of you. Please be kind/kinder to essential workers during this time,” Dixon wrote. “They are scared and have emotions like us all. They need your patience and support… we are all in this together.”


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