New York Post back page
March 22, 2020
We are all, all of us, going through various stages of denial where sports are concerned. We are entering Week 3 of our games-free world and we are all here to report that the sun still comes up every morning, it still sets every evening, and every single time they replay the Duke-Kentucky game from 1992, Rick Pitino still doesn’t guard the inbounds pass.
(Perhaps he was distracted by the Iona job 28 years in his future.)
There is a part of us, all of us, that has to beat down the delusional optimist lurking inside. Logically, we know that it’ll be awhile before we see a live sporting event, but even as we start to dream of ordering $12 Heinekens at a ballpark, we turn on the television and there is Gov. Cuomo, saying plainly of COVID-19: “It’s going to work its way through society. But it’s going to be four months, six months, nine months. We’re in that range. Nobody has a crystal ball, no one can tell you.”
Four months. Six months. Nine months.
It’s hard for that potential reality to sink in.
It’s exponentially more fun to see Bill James, the godfather of modern baseball analysis, post on Twitter as he did this weekend: “Pick the day on which you think the major-league baseball season will begin. My pick: May 15.”
(Unless he meant May 15, 2021. That seems more reasonable.)
Of course James, like the rest of us, is a fan. We are allowed our spasms of optimism, even when that bleeds into delusion. There is, after all, nothing rational about living and dying with a hockey team; why should there be anything rational about wanting to SEE a hockey game?
It’s different when you’re talking about the people who run things. We saw a lot of that two weeks ago, when the folks who run sports leagues and basketball tournaments and other such operations came to slow, deliberate and ultimately regret-filled (but proper) decisions to shut things down. The absurdity of that St. John’s-Creighton game going on for a half is something the Big East, specifically commissioner Val Ackerman, will have to answer to in time, when we hold public and private inquests on how all of this went down.
And now there is the International Olympic Committee, which should already have reached the sad conclusion that the upcoming Tokyo Games should be, at least, postponed a year. The U.S. swimming and track and field committees have already called for that. So has a growing number of nations.
Forget the dubious possibility that the world will feel properly scrubbed and sanitized by July 24, when the parade of nations and 11,000 athletes are scheduled to march into Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremonies. Let’s say the optimists among us prevail, and we start seeing live sports again sometime in late June or early July.
Even that makes the notion of an on-time start silly. Only 4,000 of those 11,000 athletes have properly qualified for the Games. The trials that would determine the competitors have largely been postponed already, or are certain to be. Travel restrictions are fluid, at best. The Olympics, in optimal times, are a logistical quagmire; amid a global pandemic they would be catastrophic.
Yet the IOC reiterated Sunday that it will wait as long as four weeks before deciding what to do about the Games, with postponement until 2021 the likeliest alternative. And even that concession was only reached after the mounting pressures of local Olympic committees begging the IOC to do the right thing — but before the Canadian and Australian Olympic and Paralympic committees declared they simply won’t send contingents to Tokyo this year, in the strongest show of force — and common sense — yet.
Sometimes, the right thing is simply obvious. It is here. The Olympics, after all, have mostly known their place in world affairs. The 1916 Summer Games were canceled because of World War I, and both the summer and winter games of 1940 and ’44 were canceled due to World War II. The IOC should probably have halted the ’72 Games after terrorists bloodied the Munich Olympiad, but it has had to answer harsh questions about that for 48 years, and rightly so.
Look, this falls in line with everything else. Everything about our world stinks right now, from our daily small sacrifices (staying home, staying away from friends, honoring quarantines and social distance) to our greater concerns, the workers losing their jobs, the victims felled by this insipid virus, the heroic doctors and nurses and EMTs fighting it on the front lines.
We grapple with these things every day. We bargain in our brains how to cope. It stinks to go through that every day. But we do, all of us, every day. The IOC must do the same, and be quick about it, and smart about it.
Delusion in these times is neither a good strategy nor a good look.