In an extended statement to the media on July 5, Washington Nationals baseball player Sean Doolittle made several thoughtful observations about our nation's botched response to Pandemic 2020. Doolittle admits that he's not a public health expert. But all of the wisdom and good sense in our nation does not reside exclusively in the minds of experts.
The context for Doolittle's observations is the dilemma over when, how and if we can restart the sports we love in the middle of a highly contagious, uncontrolled and deadly pandemic.
Doolittle has doubts about restarting sports. We haven't done the things that other countries have done in order to bring them back safely. But he makes one observation that transcends sports and bears an implicit question.
Doolittle says, "Sports are like the reward of a functioning society." The question is: Are we a functioning society? In other words, in Doolittle's framing, do we deserve the reward of sports or should we take a year off and get our house in order?
Of course, this question may be rendered entirely moot by the pandemic itself. The wisest thing I've heard anyone say about our current crisis is that the pandemic sets the schedule, not us.
We've pretended that this principle is not the bedrock of our struggle with the coronavirus. We are chafing under the restraints imposed on us by the pandemic. We are tired of staying at home. We've become desperate to get our kids out of the house and back in school. We're tired of wearing masks. We want to go back to work and eat out and go to concerts. We want to see some baseball and, above all, football.
Unfortunately, many of our state and national leaders were as unprepared to take on the pandemic as we were. They gambled on hope instead of science. They forgot -- or ignored -- the fact that until we develop better weapons to fight it, the pandemic calls the shots. We reopened too soon and the pandemic is resurging.
Now Congress seems incapable of providing the economic relief that could keep our society reasonably functional until a cure or vaccine is developed. The Trump administration has failed miserably at developing a national strategy to fight the pandemic. Many of us are ignoring the essential defense against the virus: masks. We're going to large parties and repopulating confined church pews.
And last week 250,000 bikers converged on Sturgis, S.D., for their annual rally, even though 60% of the locals voted to postpone it. For $20, you can buy a T-shirt that says, "SCREW COVID. I'M GOING TO STURGIS."
Does this sound like a functional society capable of taking on an awesome foe like a worldwide pandemic? And, according to Sean Doolittle's formulation, does it deserve the reward of sports?
Of course, the virus didn't create all of this dysfunction; it merely brought it to the surface. We were already a culture impatient with restraints on our pleasures. We've made ourselves unhealthy by eating too much, drinking too much and indulging in too much screen time, doing what the writer Neil Postman called "amusing ourselves to death."
We've lost touch with our history and, thus, we're willing to tolerate racial and economic injustice. We've fooled ourselves into denying climate change, a slowly creeping catastrophe that threatens even greater disruption than the pandemic.
Worst of all, we've elected to our highest office a man psychologically unprepared to lead us through this turmoil. When we need unity, he preaches division. When we need science, he indulges in conspiracy theories. When we need scrupulously organized leadership, he amuses himself with golf.
And even though he advertises medical advice from a doctor who believes in witches, demons and aliens, 30 to 40% of Americans still trust our president, reflecting the biggest societal dysfunction of all.
Maybe 2020 would be a good year to deny ourselves the reward of sports until we repair some of our dysfunction. It might help us reevaluate our priorities, focus on bigger issues and remind us that the pandemic is still in charge.
About The Writer
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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