Still in the middle of a pandemic, amidst the current racial climate in this country in the wake of George Floyd’s Memorial Day death by a Minneapolis policeman, and after almost a month of protests and demonstrations from coast to coast, some are questioning if this is a good time to play games. Many sports fans who see sports as a needed distraction are saying yes. But with all its uncertainty and possible deadly implications, do we really need such distractions at this time?
“People are still dying from COVID, and if you’re more concerned about starting up sports, please exit stage left,” said sports journalist Jashvina Shah in a tweet last week.
As much as these fans and others are hoping that things will return to so-called normal, sports at any level never will be the same because of COVID-19. Cue David Bowie here: “Ch-ch-changes (turn and face the strange)—Changes.”
“I’m not sure if there’s anybody out there who understands or truly knows what the future holds in the sports world,” said WCCO Radio’s Henry Lake. “There are too many unknowns about the coronavirus.”
Even as many U.S. states are seeing a serious uptick in COVID confirmed cases, especially in Florida, the WNBA announced last week that they will play their season there. All 12 teams will be at the IMG Academy in Bradenton to play a 22-game season and playoffs at a single site for the first time ever. All 144 WNBA players, plus coaches and selected staff, will be sequestered at the boarding school, beginning with training camp in a couple of weeks, then starting the season July 24.
“A lot of sports are [operating] at a single site,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said prior to the league’s announcement last week.
“We are going to play basketball,” declared Minnesota Lynx Coach/GM Cheryl Reeve to reporters, including the MSR, during a June 17 video conference call. “There are still some unknowns. It is going to be different for everybody.”
It’s a coronavirus-inspired summer camp experience so to speak, including playing games inside a “bubble” in an NFA (no fans allowed) environment. Reeve calls this “unchartered waters. That will be different.”
More importantly, the W players also will keep speaking out on what’s going on in America and what needs to be changed. “What I think our players find important right now is to continue our great work with regards to racial inequities,” Reeve said, ”specifically as it pertains to the two-tier criminal justice system. It is a much clearer focus on what Maya Moore’s work has been about.”
Moore stepped away from basketball last season to work on social justice issues. She announced earlier this year that she will take a second year off as well.
“We think it is important not only for Maya, or Renee Montgomery. This is what is in the forefront of our minds,” said Reeve.
Montgomery, a former Lynx and current Atlanta Dream guard, said last week that she also will not play this season to work on social justice issues.
“It is important that none of us be surprised” if more players opt out of playing this season, Reeve said supportively. “You are going to see very personal decisions. This is on a larger scale. “The players right now don’t want to be led by other people but do it themselves. You want to let them know they are expected to speak for themselves,” said Reeve.
“Playing basketball is what we do, but the bigger part of us is wanting to make the world a better place for everyone. We will continue to talk about this throughout the season and indefinitely until we see meaningful change.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.