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We shouldn’t be at all surprised by this news: Less than a week into its return, Major League Baseball suffered a depressing setback when more than a dozen members of the Miami Marlins, including 11 players and two coaches, tested positive for COVID-19. The Marlins-Orioles game scheduled for Monday was postponed. Also postponed was the Yankees-Phillies game in Philadelphia because the Marlins spent the weekend playing in Philadelphia and there is concern about how safe the visitors’ clubhouse is.
We’ll now wait to see whether this is just a blip or the beginning of widespread cases throughout baseball that could eventually shut down the league. Major League Baseball, like all major sports, had a plan for how to open its season. But does it have a plan for how to finish it?
As boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Well, Major League Baseball just got punched in the mouth. How will it respond?
There is optimism that the NBA and NHL can get through their seasons. The NBA is going to play in a full bubble in Orlando, Florida, while the NHL will play mostly (but not entirely) in bubbles in two Canadian cities. Baseball, however, was playing in the various major-league cities across the country, albeit in front of no fans.
So now you can’t help but ask: If a non-contact sport such as baseball can’t get through a week without a problem, how are contact sports such as football going to pull it off? Can there really be an NFL and college football season?
Appearing on Paul Finebaum’s ESPN radio show, Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde said that when it comes to college football, “Any hope there’s going to be a dramatic reversal of overall virus numbers in the country seems hopeless. So now what you’re looking at, as one commissioner put it to me, is ‘What is the appetite for risk?’”
Those questions led to some media beef on Twitter on Monday. As many in sports media began questioning whether or not football should or could be played come fall, NFL Network morning-show co-host Kyle Brandt tweeted:
“There’s a segment of the NFL media that seems to be almost rooting for COVID to affect the season. They want it. They see the Marlins news and say, ‘Yep! Lots of luck, football!’ These are people who make their livings off football. I don’t get it.”
That’s a ridiculously bad take by Brandt. Media members are not “almost rooting” for football to be shut down. It’s the media’s job to report the facts and question the wisdom of trying to play a sport during a deadly pandemic. That doesn’t mean those who cover the sport want it to shut down.
One can simultaneously want sports to be played and think it’s a bad idea — or at least raise the possibility of it being a bad idea.
Brandt found a few supporters online, mostly non-media Twitter users. Those who cover sports for a living fought back.
Big-time NFL writer Peter King tweeted to Brandt, “Oh stop.”
Jeff Schultz, a columnist for The Athletic in Atlanta, tweeted, “Your entire Tweet should’ve been your last line: ‘I don’t get it.’”
Longtime NFL writer in New York, Ralph Vacchiano, who now works at SportsNet New York, tweeted, “The reason you don’t get it is because you are completely wrong. No one in NFL media is rooting against a season when our livelihood depends on it. That’s an offensive and inaccurate take. The fact is, the Marlins news shows how tough an NFL season will be. It’s just true.”
There’s no question that Monday’s news about the Marlins was made even grimmer by the fact that people seemed overjoyed about the return of sports. Huge TV numbers prove just how big the appetite was and is.
An average of 4 million people watched ESPN’s opening day game between the Yankees and defending-champion Nationals. That was the most-watched regular-season game since 2011. That same night, 2.7 million watched the Giants and Dodgers, making it ESPN’s most-watched late-night regular-season game ever.
In addition, WNBA numbers are up 20% over a year ago. Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury averaged 540,000 viewers, making it the most-watched WNBA opener since 2012. ESPN announced Monday it was adding 13 more WNBA games to its TV schedule, bringing the number of games it will air to 37. And that number does not include postseason games, which ESPN will air.
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.