Drastic measures done simply for show don’t actually make anyone safer.
Major League Baseball, the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer announced Monday night that they are kicking media out of their clubhouses and locker rooms in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Or so they want everyone to think, somberly citing “the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings.”
Setting aside for a minute the dangerous precedent of limiting media access, or any pretense of concern for the paying customers, the edict does very little, if anything, to protect players. They’ll still be coming in contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of people before, during and after games.
Their teammates. The coaching staff. Referees. Team personnel. Vendors. Ushers. Maintenance personnel. And don’t forget about those high rollers who sit courtside and are forever getting run over, or sat upon, by a player chasing a loose ball.
Every single one of them is just as much, if not more, of a threat to spread the virus as reporters and broadcasters trying to do their jobs.
And consider that the one time a professional team was instructed not to play by local health officials, the San Jose Sharks went ahead and played anyway. Have continued to do so, too.
But using the media as a patsy allows the leagues to look as if they’re doing something so people stop raising the possibility of playing games behind closed doors. Or, God forbid, postponing them until COVID-19 is no longer an active threat.
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A view of the DC United locker room prior to the team's game against Inter Miami at Audi Field. MLS is one of four major pro sports leagues closing locker rooms and clubhouses to the media. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)
Coronavirus has everyone spooked, and that’s understandable. There have been more than 110,000 confirmed cases and 3,500 deaths around the globe, and there still is no vaccine or cure for it. New cases are reported every day in the United States, and our government is ill-equipped to handle a pandemic.
Conferences have been canceled and some schools have been closed. There’s been a run on hand sanitizers and people are stockpiling supplies as if Stephen King’s “The Stand” is playing out in real life.
So, yeah, the idea of stadiums and arenas filled with thousands of people, all those germs and viral droplets in close quarters, is a little unsettling.
But closing locker rooms and clubhouses does almost nothing to address that. It’s the equivalent of giving a couple of Tylenol to someone who is bleeding from the head. The leagues and owners want to claim they’re doing something without having to put their profits at risk, and this allows them to do it.
Crass as that might sound, it’s true.
Unless there’s a study I’ve missed, broadcasters and reporters are no more likely to have or spread the coronavirus than anyone else. Even if they are, they’re still going to be at games. If they were going to be sneezing and coughing and spreading germs in the locker room or clubhouse, they’re going to be sneezing and coughing and spreading germs in the interview room, too.
And a closed locker room or clubhouse does nothing to prevent a sick employee from going to work. (An aside: If there’s no media in the clubhouses and locker rooms, why allow the team PR staffers in there?) It does nothing to keep a fan from touching his germy face and then raising that hand to try and keep LeBron James from flying out of bounds.
It does nothing to actually keep anyone, on or off the court, healthy.
But that wasn’t really the point.
The Centers for Disease Control is not recommending cancellation of large events, with one official saying Monday that it is “really difficult to make those kind of pronouncements broadly.” But the public remains jittery.
By shutting something down, owners and the leagues are no doubt hoping they can avoid shutting everything down. That this distracts the public and gullible government officials from the fact that, in Italy, all sporting events have been canceled until April 3. Or that Japanese baseball teams are playing in empty stadiums.
If the leagues and owners were truly concerned about the players' health, they’d be far more worried about the larger masses of people they come in contact with. And they might spare a thought for the fans who are spending three hours or more in the stadiums and arenas that double as germ-infested petri dishes.
That they’re not tells you all you need to know.
This is about the money, not the medicine.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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