Commissioners, wake up and cancel sports — There is always 2021

Dear commissioners,

Are your athletes worth so little to you? The NBA will make back the $6 billion it would lose if it cancelled its recently revived season. The MLS would still survive, the NHL would still be intact. But the NFL — what are you doing?

Roger Goodell, why are you letting fans into your stadiums during the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu?

Let me be clear: The NFL has no idea how to handle this pandemic. After weeks of going back and forth, the league and its Players Association agreed to new protocols designed to “minimize risk for fans, players and club and league personnel.”

“Minimizing risks for fans” does not mean letting them into stadiums. You let them in when you are desperately seeking money. You made a rule that they must wear masks? Companies are doing that, too. Costco and Kroger are among those that are going viral because they are seeing people not abide by the guidelines to save each other’s lives. It will not work. 

Cancel sports, full stop. Your athletes, coaches, training staff, front office personnel, everyone: Send them home. 

Kevin Durant, Rudy Gobert, Von Miller, Doris Burke, Ezekiel Elliot, Marcus Smart, Freddie Freeman. Quite the collection of names in sports. 

On March 11, the Oklahoma City Thunder canceled their game against the Utah Jazz and sent the Chesapeake Energy Arena fans home in confusion. Nobody knew what was going on until the news broke shortly after: The coronavirus made it to the sports world.

When Shams Charania of The Athletic shocked the world with his breaking news about Rudy Gobert testing positive in the locker rooms for COVID-19, the sports world stopped. Immediately, the NBA canceled the games scheduled for the rest of the evening. 

In the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament, Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Fred Hoidberg seemed like he was fighting just to stay awake. In the middle of a win-or-go-home game, on national television, he gradually became ill on the sidelines, resulting in an emergency room visit. 

While the test revealed the flu, symptoms indicated coronavirus. The more I watched the footage on SportsCenter, the larger my notifications and missed texts and phone calls became. I knew it was only a matter of time before COVID-19 made its way to professional sports.

In Oklahoma City, the Thunder and Utah Jazz had just finished their pregame introductions and were doing their pregame routines with teammates. Donovan Mitchell and Chris Paul were in the midst of exceptional seasons — Paul’s providing the loyal Thunder fans with a surprise playoff run. For the two big men, Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams prepared for a long night of battling each other’s seven-foot, 245-pound frames.

And, then, it happened.

Gobert was “feeling good, strong and stable” and even “strong enough to play” against the Thunder’s Steven Adams. All was well until his actions in a press conference two days before that game. Two days before he tested positive, Gobert mocked the pandemic by touching all the microphones on the table. His teammate, all-star guard Donovan Mitchell, tested positive for the virus shortly after.

Millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, fans will have to grapple with a “new normal”: They will not be attending sporting events in 2020. The decision will cost professional sports leagues and prolific collegiate programs more than anyone could have anticipated.

The University of Wisconsin projects a loss of at least $60 million due to the newly announced ten-game, conference-only schedule for the 2020 football season. That projection climbs to $100 million with a canceled football season. With more and more lives being affected every day by a pandemic far worse than any old flu, the NCAA continues to put its athletes’ lives on the line. 

With the MLS and MLB adapting to this idea of stadiums without fans, it has not felt the same. When LeBron James opened up the Los Angeles Lakers’ Orlando bubble journey on a fastbreak dunk Thursday night, I could not help but reflect on his comments about empty stadiums right before sports flipped upside down.

“We play games without the fans? Nah, that’s impossible,” James said, following a 113-103 win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, who boast the league’s best record. “I ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, and I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. So if I show up to an arena, and there ain’t no fans in there, I ain’t playing. They can do what they want to do.”

James, a future NBA Hall of Famer and one of the purest athletes to ever compete in sports, can say this. His track record on and off the court allows him to be a voice for the voiceless. For the less fortunate, sitting back seemed like the only option. 

In sports, nobody’s voices are mute quite like those of student-athletes. From the Clemson Tigers football team, which confirmed 37 cases of the coronavirus, to the Michigan State Spartans basketball team, which is currently in quarantine, young adults are losing precious time. 

Nobody signed up to participate in sports under these conditions. No game, scrimmage, practice or in-person film session is worth the life of someone who continues working to achieve their dreams.

Student-athletes, those who are earning their respective schools all that money, are at risk more than anyone else in the industry. Football games are more than just throwing and catching and tackling; what padded players face between the endzones does not compare to any foul ball, flagrant foul or yellow card.

With cases continuing to grow in the U.S., sports need to be canceled. The world’s most elite athletes have been infected and suffered.

What happens if one of them loses this game of life?


Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated “The NBA will make back the $6 million it would lose …” The monetary amount has been changed to “$6 billion.”

Updated at 3:13 p.m.