Sports leagues in the United States are continuing to resume operations despite the fact that it is clearly unsafe, but this is just one small locus of the horror that is being wrought across our society by libertarian capitalism.
This is not a conspiracy theory, but the result of decades of monstrous and inhumane policies which were let loose into our public, private, and professional lives like sleeper agents. We have a privatized healthcare industry; we have aggressively militarized police forces across the country; we have an entire system of government that was designed to serve white, property-owning men, which is working as intended. There was a certain amount of stress that these systems could take, and certain amounts of tumult and death and material insecurity and risk that were normalized prior to this. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide uprisings against the police have combined with a deeply authoritarian, cynical, hateful ruling party and an embarrassingly ineffective opposition party with very few materially meaningful policy differences to the fascists. No one is coming to save us. There is nothing between us and the bottom.
The determination among capitalists to resume "normal operations" in these conditions is purely unhinged. Restaurants, bars, gyms, nightclubs, theaters, and all live entertainment venues obviously need to remain closed. There are stories released every day about new COVID-19 infections being traced back to places where people gathered in large groups, especially to eat and drink. Since the virus spreads through tiny droplets in the air, to and from the respiratory system, this should come as no surprise. You can't wear a mask when you are eating and drinking. It's simply not safe to be physically close with groups of people, especially indoors.
Even for businesses that could create a reasonably safe operating model during the pandemic, staffing is greatly reduced, and workers who are immunocompromised or have an immunocompromised family member at home are being asked to risk death to themselves and their loved ones to return to work. (Meanwhile during the pandemic, the rich have gotten richer. The stock market tells that story well.) The rollback of reopening, which is starting in some states this week, will come too late. Wearing a mask anytime you will be around someone else outside of your immediate household, even at a reasonably safe distance, is the best defense we have. And it makes sense to limit those interactions as much as possible. Popular safety measures being implemented, like temperature checks, are likely to be only minimally effective since asymptomatic people can spread the virus to everyone around them. You don't need to have a fever to infect others.
All of these facts have been minimized or ignored in developing reopening plans. We are living in a failed state. The United States has failed to contain the virus in any way, shape, or form. Giving money and food to people to stay home for 3 months would have saved thousands of lives. Instead, the CARES Act provided massive loans to large companies, and very little of that money made its way into the hands of regular workers. Aside from one single stimulus check, back in April, and oftentimes difficult-to-access expanded unemployment benefits at the state level, the government has provided zero direct assistance to workers.
The United States' response to COVID-19 will go down in history as a great and inexplicable failure. Thousands more will die. Any data we receive will be doctored, obfuscated, and underreported. The corpses of human beings, of our friends and family members, will continue to pile up in disused rooms of hospitals, in trucks in the streets, and perhaps eventually in the streets themselves. Our chance to stop this from happening may have long passed.
There is no incentive for the fascists at the top of our government to act to save lives. If anything, this is an opportunity for them to thin out the underclass and demoralize the opposition. They have reason to want to do this. The thousands of people in the streets across the globe supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and calling for defunding and abolishing the police are absolutely a threat to their power and their resources. Federal, local, and state authorities can't provide meals or shelter to vulnerable people in their communities who are unemployed and/or houseless; they can't cancel rent; they can't just give people checks to stay the fuck home. But they can give riot gear to cops. There hasn't been a noticeable shortage of rubber bullets or teargas canisters. They haven't had any financial difficulty getting the bombs that they drop from drones in the Middle East. They haven't had any difficulty whatsoever, again, in providing millions of dollars in PPP loans to private companies, allegedly to save jobs. The effectiveness of these "job-saving" measures is dubious at best because people are continuing to file for unemployment in record numbers.
And yet, for some reason, professional sports leagues are determined to play on. Every sports league in North America that has tried to resume training and games reported COVID cases among teams and staff: the NWSL, the WNBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the NHL, and the NBA. While the NFL has not begun training camps, several of its players have tested positive as well, and the League should expect many positive results during its entry testing.
It would seem that the team sports environment is not conducive to containing the virus. The bubbles that professional leagues are attempting to create can easily become hotspots in and of themselves. The constant testing of athletes to prevent this situation is undoubtedly using resources that are needed elsewhere. Every person should be able to access a test, but thousands of them are being used to resume pro sports. Regular people with symptoms are being told they don't qualify for a test referral if their symptoms are not severe enough. Testing sites that will administer the test without a referral require hours-long waits in hot parking lots. Asymptomatic people are unlikely to be tested at all even though an asymptomatic carrier can spread the virus to everyone around them.
While this will eventually subside, we may never be able to tally up the body count that is directly attributable to the resumption of pro sports if the current trends continue. We often intimately know the details of athletes' health – that's been normalized. But if a team staff member carries the virus home to a relative, who then dies, we may never know about it. Even without fatalities, the prognosis for people who survive the virus isn't always good, and they may deal with permanent organ damage and possible neurological issues. It would be devastating to an athlete's career to get COVID – just as it would be devastating for anyone, at any stage of their lives or professional careers, to get COVID. The fact that sports leagues think it is worth the risk to their employees and their families is a garish example of what capitalism has done to us as a society.
Some sports leagues have already resumed active schedules. The decision-makers (government officials, team owners, league executives) are not immediately putting themselves at risk. Those powerful people that do put themselves at risk (by not wearing masks, by going out to eat, by gathering in public) are engaging in performative hubris and ultimately putting us all at the mercy of both capitalism and the virus. Of course, with access to the best possible healthcare and virtually unlimited financial resources, they are the ones among us most likely to survive and fully recover. Most of us who get infected will not be as lucky.
Resuming professional team sports right now, even without fans in attendance, is a choice to make people very sick and a choice to kill someone. It is a choice of pretension and vanity over the well-being of our friends, colleagues, and loved ones. There is no material argument in favor of this that couldn't have been resolved by the United States government taking care of its own residents during the pandemic with food, money, and free healthcare. Instead, we have been left with a gaping black hole.
Wanting sports back is normal – we all want to have things in our life that bring us joy and entertain us, especially right now. But having sports back won't stop the bodies from piling up around us. Our community members will continue to die. Most of them will die alone. Sports coming back is a tacit endorsement of those deaths as well as of the system that permitted them. It's a form of cruelty disguised as a healing balm. Nothing good will come of it whatsoever.
(Photo: Austrian National Library/Unsplash)