C.W. Nevius: Big money sports teams are writing their own COVID rules

The only example of pre-pandemic normal is in stadiums and arenas

Until recently, if you said sports are a waste of time, I wouldn’t offer much pushback.

Of course, actually playing sports has health benefits. But most of us (raises hand) are couch potatoing. Harmless fun with no real upside.

But now, with the Bay Area in a medically confirmed surge of 49ers Playoff Fever, I’m rethinking.

Could it be that sports, in their stubborn, probably reckless way, are providing the model for how to now deal with COVID? We keep saying we are looking for things to return to “normal.”

From here it looks like the only example of pre-pandemic normal is in the stadiums and arenas of major sports. Because big money sports teams have quietly ignored the advice of medical experts and have charted their own COVID map.

It’s hard to blame them. It’s not like we’re getting solid guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC is so all over the map that it has literally become a joke.

Tweets are all over the internet mocking the bureau’s willy-nilly pronouncements.

(Current favorite: “The CDC just announced you can fill a theme park with dinosaurs again if you really learned your lesson last time.”)

The major sports didn’t bother with any of that. Again, I’m not sure I agree with the approach, but you have to admit they picked a strategy and they powered through it.

Basically, big time sports said, “We want games, dammit.” And they followed that with, “And, dammit, we also want fans.”

And that’s what they got.

They vaccinated as many athletes as possible, warned fans of the dangers, encouraged getting the shots and opened the gates.

We saw college football stadiums packed with over 100,000 fans, game after game.

And the athletes and coaches were virtually all without masks, huffing and puffing into each other’s faces. Generally, it looked like everyone was just hoping for the best.

Again, I’m not sure I totally agree with this, but it kinda worked out. We didn’t hear of dozens of athletes in college or professional sports becoming deathly ill or put on emergency room ventilators.

And despite the huge mass gatherings – generally unmasked and not socially distant – the games didn’t create enormous, deadly, statewide infections.

(Yes, ERs are full in some states, but as we’ve been told over and over, those are overwhelmingly unvaccinated people. They could have gotten COVID anywhere, not just at a football game.)

The NFL, in particular, must be pretty pleased with itself. The league did have some postponed games, but they were played later in the week. They not only managed to play a full schedule, a 17th game was added to the regular season. They got through that and into the playoffs without canceling a game, although apparently it was discussed.

The NFL got as many players vaccinated as possible, over 94%, and then dealt with positive tests on a case-by-case basis. There was an announcement that so-and-so was following “health and safety protocols.” They were isolated until negative and then returned. It became a common workplace event.

They also made it without restricting fans. At no time did a football crowd cause a virus outbreak, resulting in the curtailment of attendance for ensuing games.

If scientists would like a large sample size for big groups of unmasked people gathering, they could have attended Sunday’s 49ers-Cowboys game. There were over 92,000 in attendance and masks were rarely seen – including, by the way, maskless members of each teams’ front office staff and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

It looked almost … normal.

As for the unvaccinated, the sporting world stopped playing school marm.

Personally, I think anyone who hasn’t gotten vaccinated is an idiot.

But to think we’re going to force them to get a shot, or that we can convince them with a list of statistics is ridiculous. They’ve heard the stories. They’ve seen the people on ventilators. They are not going to do it.

To which sports said, fine. We’re moving on.

Novak Djokovic refuses to get a vaccination? Sorry, that’s the rule for the Australian Open. Your call. We’ll miss you but the tournament started Monday.

Kyrie Irving, another non-vaxxer? Unfortunately, you don’t meet the health standards at home in New York or in Toronto or San Francisco. You can’t play there. If you choose to put your weird personal crusade ahead of your teammates, go ahead. (The Nets will be here Jan. 29, presumably without Irving.)

As for Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, the NFL was not exactly a profile in courage. Presumed to not be vaccinated, Rodgers is still playing everywhere. He actually tested positive for COVID, and was fined, but in a quirk in protocols, once a player has had COVID and returned, he can’t be tested for 90 days.

So now he’s back, being a complete jerk about it, questioning the science and spreading misinformation.

Rodgers is trashing his reputation and ruining his off-field income opportunities. But for better or worse, the NFL is just moving on. He’ll play Saturday against the 49ers, unvaxxed.

Meanwhile, San Francisco and the Bay Area have done a good job controlling COVID infections and hospitalizations.

But there are residual effects.

Alert reader Sebastian Luke emailed with a little downtown scouting report. He notes that Abercrombie & Fitch, in the Westfield Mall, will permanently close Jan. 26. Also, Nordstrom Rack has already closed and next door neighbor Ulta Beauty will too.

It is part of a sad trend of the hollowing out the downtown shopping core. We keep saying people will come back, but that’s starting to feel more hopeful than realistic.

COVID has lasted far longer than we expected, brazen crime is scaring people and the political divisiveness has only gotten worse.

But maybe, just for a week, we can put that aside and tone down the panic. Maybe the pandemic is winding down. As evidence, we’ve seen that people can gather by the thousands in stadiums and arenas without causing a massive, deadly outbreak.

So maybe for a few days we can take that hopeful news and concentrate on another pressing concern:

How’s Jimmy Garoppolo’s thumb feeling?

Contact C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@gmail.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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