There was actually a time where I assumed that sports, and football in particular, would put a dent in all this fear that’s permeated throughout our society. I really thought that as we approached football season, COVID panic would be no match for people’s desire to tailgate, get together on the weekend, head out to the bars etc. etc..
Man, was I wrong.
At the risk of sounding (or even being) patronizing, group narratives can overpower those who don’t think critically. For well longer than any of us have been alive, athletes have literally worked their asses off, to achieve their collegiate and professional dreams. Being afraid of the consequences was seen as a weakness- a sign that someone “just doesn’t want it enough.” ESPECIALLY in football, players are taking all KINDS of health risks- injuries and damage that can be with them for the rest of their lives. That’s never stopped them before, because they do it for the love of the game.
Effective this summer, that’s no longer the case. COVID-19, a virus whose main impacts are suffered primarily by unhealthy and/or elderly people- the exact OPPOSITE of an athlete’s profile- comes along, and what happens? These athletes, who have been training their entire lives for the opportunity to play at a national level, are being praised for NOT suiting up, thanks to the months of endless fear-peddling that has gripped America- a fear that has had far more of an effect on us collectively than the virus itself.
As someone who’s been far better in life at watching sports than playing them, one of the reasons I’ve been such a huge fan is because it provides an escape from the more troubling aspects of real life. Now? It’s become a reminder of them.
Even with no games- ESPECIALLY with no games- Major League Baseball reflects what is happening across America.
To see just how insanely tough a professional athlete can be- emphasis on “insane”- there’s no need to go back to The Good Ol’ Days. Not even three weeks ago, NFL linebacker Ryan Anderson declared that if he will be able to remember his grandkids names someday, that would be an indication that he didn’t play his hardest. As foolhardy as Anderson might sound to us mere mortals, many (most?) guys in the NFL would gladly sacrifice their later years, at a chance to be the greatest right now. There are even more extreme examples than football, found in sports that are literally labeled as “extreme”, such as ultimate fighting. And even among “softer” sports, such as baseball or tennis, all professional athletes worth their salt go through rigorous, occasionally risky training, to achieve their goals.
This intense backdrop gives us some perspective as how deep the fear of COVID-19 has now become ingrained into all walks of our society. Some examples over the past week give us more insight into just how misguided it all is.
It is worth repeating that COVID-19- the virus formerly known as “The Wuhan Virus”, prior to Communist Chinese government objections- can be a dangerous and deadly disease, particularly across certain segments of that population. Equally conclusive is the fact that for all intents and purposes, professional athletes are just about THE LEAST susceptible people to this virus, as are their young families. For all the ridicule and scorn endured by those who have compared COVID to the flu, the fact is that for young and healthy people, COVID is actually less deadly than the flu. Admittedly, there’s not as much conclusive data on potential long-term damage inflicted by COVID, but there’s little evidence to suggest anything but an extremely remote chance of it, for those outside of the at-risk population.
Unfortunately, outside of relatively small groups that are highly suspicious of the official narrative- “COVIDIOTS”, as the majority have labeled us- none of this matters. What was initially sold as a half-month effort to “stop the spread” has turned into a nearly half-year effort (and counting) to stop the virus altogether, stopping our way of life and freedoms right along with it. Major League Baseball, not long ago thought of as an escape from the troubles of the world, has become fully engulfed in this draconian mentality.
The first big name to opt out is David Price, the former All Star pitcher. A highly educated Vanderbilt man, Price has adapted the intelligentsia’s mantra that it’s just too risky to keep living life- never mind the microscopic risk to himself and his family. The majority are applauding his ultra-risk adverse decision, while predictably wagging their fingers at those who take issue with this decision. (Keep in mind that “essential workers”, with so much more on the line, have no such luxury in being given an option.)
Personally, I can’t get too worked up about Mr. Price’s choice, as misguided as I believe it to be. For one thing, he is losing out on millions of dollars. For another, Price is making the incredibly classy and generous move of paying minor leagues $1,000 each, during this harrowing time. All this would indicate that David Price is the real deal. Nevertheless, this kind of mentality is destroying our society. At the beginning of 2020, comedian Howie Mandel was looked at with a certain level of pity, for his lifelong battle with OCD. Now, everyone’s afraid to touch the doorknob, or lean on a counter that hasn’t been lysoled in the past half hour!
Where is all this leading us to? Remember when Mike Piazza hit a home run in the first game back after 9-11? The sports world fawned at how it reminded us that life, as well as our society, can continue forward. Heck, Mets fans STILL bring that up! Well…at least they did bring it up, prior to this abrupt change in our culture. How can we continue reminiscing about such a moment, if the new lesson is, “Let’s package ourselves in bubble wrap as long as possible, and hope the scary thing doesn’t come for us.” Truth be told, in a time where people scream “SCIENCE!” as a defense of their fears, this Howard Hughes-like obsession with germs couldn’t be less scientific, if we painted blood on our doors to stop the Angel Of Death from taking us. (Go rent “The Ten Commandments” if that reference didn’t make sense.)
There are other big name examples besides David Price, and there’s no need to go into much detail about any others- they’re all pretty much the same, minus his incredible generosity. There is one other example worth taking a look at, however, due more to the reaction than the decision itself.
Buster Posey, one of the greatest San Francisco Giants of all time, has also decided not to play this year- assuming baseball even HAS a season, of course. Posey’s decision actually does have pretty strong merit, even by “COVIDIOT” standards. He and his wife just adopted newborn twins, and as a 3x World Champion and multi-multi-millionaire, there really is no good reason for him to even take the slightest risk that COVID might present to his family.
Overwhelmingly, people supported Posey’s decision, but that wasn’t enough for San Francisco sports columnist Ray Ratto, who wrote on Twitter, “Buster Posey’s decision to put his family’s health and safety ahead of baseball’s half-assed masterplan is a dangerous precedent that will only provide support and satisfaction to sensible people.” Why take such a snarky potshot at an almost non-existent group of critics? Quite simple- in this dystopian society being created in real time, showing contempt for those who are suspicious of it is seen as the ultimate virtue. (Note what’s going on with masks now, which deserves a whole entire post of its own.)
Speaking of showing contempt…
Generally speaking, I rarely pay attention to the political or ideological beliefs of an athlete or entertainer. There are exceptions though, particularly when they use their celebrity platform, along with the ego which accompanies it, to pretend that they are experts on topics outside of their domain. Enter Sean Doolittle.
Though not quite the household name that either David Price or Buster Posey are, Doolittle is a very established pitcher in his own right. An outspoken liberal and media darling (though I repeat myself), Doolittle scored some press for himself outside the sports world last year, refusing to visit The White House with the rest of his World Series winning teammates on the Washington Nationals.
The fawning press he received for “taking a stand” must have really gotten to his head, because he’s now speaking with more unearned confidence about COVID-19 than Dr. Fauci. At the podium for a press conference hosted by the Nationals, Doolittle pulled off a cute little stunt, staring at his phone as he feigned curiosity over whether he received his COVID results yet. (Doolittle was annoyed that it had been two days and he still didn’t have them. Apparently, he’s unaware that thousands of other tests need to be analyzed, as well.)
It gets better/worse. Doolittle lectured America for being “complacent” about the virus, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the majority of the population has been scared senseless into stopping their lives and livelihoods because of it. Doolittle’s evidence that America had tired of doing what “they were supposed to be” stems from businesses opening up during Memorial Day weekend- in other words, “too early”. Never mind that Memorial Day was a full two months after the initial date that we were supposedly moving back towards normal life again (“15 days to flatten the curve!”, remember?) It was curious that Doolittle blamed the opening of a few businesses for spreading the virus further, instead of…you know…that “other thing”. (Being a staunch liberal, we know he is under obligation to make no mention of that, of course.)
But wait- there’s more! While Doolittle was saying all of these things, we literally couldn’t see the words coming out of his mouth. He was wearing a mask that had enough cloth to be converted into a small shirt, seemingly designed to create a “LOOK AT ME, EVERYBODY!” moment, louder than even his audacious haircut was signaling. In fact, he looked more like a bank robber from The Old West, than a guy trying to stop the spread of a virus. Add in that nobody was sitting or standing anywhere near him, and even the most ardent mask advocate would have recognized that such action was designed for visual impact, not virus containment. In spite of all this, he had the nerve to blame OTHERS for “politicizing” the issues of masks.
The final point is also the most galling. Not unlike an elementary school teacher, lecturing students on the privilege of awarding recess in exchange for good behavior, Doolittle describes sports as “a reward for a functional society”. There have been plenty of decrees, statements, and soundbites that have gotten under my skin over the past four months, but this was one of the worst. Personally, I would love to see Doolittle give that press conference again about Americans not “earning the reward” of his presence on a baseball field- only this time to essential workers, making less than 1% of his salary. (Links to Doolittle’s video clips- https://twitter.com/FanSided/status/1279837698941956096https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6lTJx5kVuY )
Moving on from Sean Doolittle’s arrogance by taking a few deep breaths, it’s worth remembering the goal of this post is to point out the corrosive mentality of hiding from a virus that is not only far less scary overall than what is being sold to us, but one which, quite honestly, many of us will catch regardless of how much we hide. Athletes, like the rest of us, will never see the reality of this, unless they go outside their box to see it.
Before wrapping this up, there’s one more incident, with almost perfectly symbolic timing, that’s worth mentioning. The same day that David Price announced that he was not going to pitch this season, Yankee pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was struck in the head with a 112 line drive. As a brain injury survivor myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tanaka had to live with the effects of that injury for the rest of his life, to one extent or another. With that in mind, consider this question- what would society think of Tanaka, if he were to retire because he didn’t want to take any more chances getting hurt like that again? What would society have thought of David Wright, Hiroki Kuroda, Giancarlo Stanton, or countless other players who have gotten hit in the head with a baseball? What about Buster Posey’s injury? It never seems to occur to these guys for a minute that they should retire, and we applaud them for “brushing it off” and continuing on with their career. I ask, semi-rhetorically, why we don’t have the same attitude about COVID-19?
Throughout the history of professional sports, one of the trademarks of professional athletes is to be tough. There is no exception to this rule- not in baseball, not in tennis, not even in golf. Athletes are expected to endure through all kinds of brutal physical training, at the mere chance of glory few of us can even dream of- the phrase, “No guts, no glory!” is a continuous reminder of that. Seeing how abandoning this trademark toughness in the face of is not only tolerated, but actively encouraged in the age of COVID-19, it is a wakeup call on just how deep Their hooks have taken over our society with their psychological operations, conducted on the entire population of America. It is up to those among us who can see what’s going on to take it back.
No, sports guys and gals, you don’t have to stick to what you’re paid for- but the NBA’s kowtowing to China shows why you should.
For at least a quarter century now- and arguably going as far back as the Nixon administration- the country that currently deems itself “the world’s only superpower” has bent over backwards for a vicious regime that has brutalized many of its people since the middle of the 20th century. (This blog post isn’t really about that, but for just a few examples, click here, here, and here.) As challenging as life may be for some Americans, none of us can comprehend what it’s like to live under a dictatorship like China, other than the ones who have had to escape from one. This is especially true for those who believe Donald J. Trump’s presidency is the worse thing imaginable. But again, this post isn’t about that- not primarily anyway.
People go to Twitter to take all kinds of stands on various issues- politics, sports, ice cream toppings. But those in the public sphere who do so often create more of a stir than intended. Such was the case with Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. With Hong Kong rising up against the Chinese regime for months now, Morey expressed support for the protesters with a seemingly simple tweet. But in today’s hyper-polarized social climate, very few things are simple, particularly with one of the NBA’s biggest international customers.
The NBA, usually lauded by the virtue signalers for speaking out “courageously” on social issues, was not silent on the issue, although they probably should have been. They took the extraordinary step of criticizing Morey for supporting the protesters. But it didn’t stop there. In fact, they were just getting started. Paying fans who held a banner that said “Free Hong Kong!” were removed from a game…in Philadelphia, no less. Is there a more pathetic symbol of what’s happening with this country, when the city that once hosted the Declaration of Independence signing doesn’t allow fans to support freedom for others? What does that say about our freedom?
Getting back to the NBA, though, the story reached a crescendo when LeBron James, who has bounced between the spectrum of sports hero and villain more times than we can count, had the nerve to criticize Morey for commenting about a subject that he (Morey) “wasn’t educated” on. That’s right- the same man who was once infamously told to “shut up and dribble” by a conservative gadfly was now doing the same thing to a highly esteemed general manager, for speaking out on a worthy cause.
Ultimately, this issue is not solely about LeBron James- or Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr, who disgracefully invoked sporadic mass shootings in America as a shield to widespread Chinese oppression. It’s about the culture of expecting athletes to be more than athletes. Starting with Babe Ruth and leading up to Michael Jordan, superstar athletes were thought to be more like real life superheroes, long before “MCU” became part of our lexicon. Partially overlapping that period has been the socially conscious athlete- or what is sometimes derisively referred to as “woke athlete”, derived from the idea that someone is awake to the problems our society is facing. This can be traced back at least to Muhammad Ali, a very controversial figure in his own time, who took on the establishment in protesting the Vietnam War, at considerable personal cost. Whatever shortcomings Ali had as a human being, this act of bravery has been lauded, at least in hindsight, as a positive example of an athlete being more than just an athlete.
Unfortunately, many poor imitations have been attempted since then. When addressing issues in today’s society, athletes and their backers (click here for the original “stick to sports” blog post) will predictably invoke Ali, in a nauseating self-congratulatory circle-jerk. We have freedom of speech in this country- Philadelphia 76ers pregame debacle notwithstanding- so it’s fine when a future Hall of Famer wants to speak his or her mind about topics beyond what their famous for. But they should not automatically expect to be congratulated for “bravery”, particularly when the endgame of what passes as “sacrifice” turns out to be signing a lucrative dollar contract with Nike, a multi-billion dollar company that has cynically and successfully turned “woke culture” into an even bigger cash cow than the one that they’ve been milking for decades.
So the next time LeBron James, Steve Kerr or anyone else want to speak out on an issue, it’s worth remembering that it’s their right to do so. It’s also worth remembering that when real sacrifice was on the line, they refused to remain silent. They took sides with the oppressors.
(Meanwhile on the court, opening night for the Lakers is on Tuesday, as they face off against the new look Clippers. And if I may exercise my free speech, by the time the circus at Staples Center gets going, aging LeBron’s off-court debacle will be the least of his worries…)