In Stephen King’s The Running Man, the masses in a near-future dystopia are entertained by a hellish live-action death match where alleged “criminals” have to escape a gauntlet of “good guys,” or be killed in the process. It’s the most popular show in a broken world defined by rampant decay.
We have not reached Running Man levels yet in the post-coronavirus sports world, but it seems like various sports commissioners want to give it their best shot. The Trump-encouraged plans to start play would create an apocalyptic funhouse where athletes (workers) risk their lives as diversion for the subjects of a flailing empire. The specific ideas being bandied about are as cruel as they are bizarre, with no concern for either public health or the well-being of those running these virus-infused gauntlets.
Take Ultimate Fighting. UFC’s war chief Dana White has a plan to use an unnamed private island as a site for family-friendly combat. He also, according to The New York Times, has an almost unthinkable planned venue for a fight on April 18—a Native American reservation in California. By staging this match there, White is able to skirt California’s statewide shelter-in-place laws. He said:
I’m ready to get back. You keep people in their houses for too long without entertainment, people are going to start losing their minds.
Dana White is a dear friend of Donald Trump, who is also thirsting for the diversion that sports provide. Anything to take the focus from his disastrous handling of this pandemic.
In Major League Baseball, commissioner Rob Manfred is shepherding a brazenly irresponsible plan to start in early May. The blueprint is to sequester players for four and a half months from friends and family and play all their games in the Spring Training parks of Arizona, which should hit 120 degrees in the shade by July. (I’m sure management will remind them that it’s a dry heat.) As one Mets player said to the New York Post, “It’s the desert. Stuff doesn’t live there, it dies there.”
Their only travel would be to and from the stadiums. The ideas about how to maintain social distancing strain credulity. Meetings on the mound between pitcher and catcher would be forbidden. Players would sit in the stands at a safe distance from one another, instead of the dugout. In addition, umpires would be positioned six feet away from every base, with an electronic strike zone in use to further keep everyone at a good safe space. No word yet if you can tag someone out at a distance of six feet.
MLB is conjuring this plan alongside the union, which must make Marvin Miller do the Triple Lindy in his grave. Rob Manfred and the billionaire bosses also have the go ahead from “federal officials” to execute this, which in the context of Trump must be seen as motivated by impulses both politicized and corrupt. They certainly aren’t inspired by public health, not if they’re backing this.
And Lord knows what the NFL is brewing in its Park Avenue offices to put the players on the field. A league that has shown it cares little for the health of its players won’t hesitate to put them out there with two Advil and a prayer.
The NBA seems to be the only league with its head on straight. One general manager said to ESPN,
[NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] was the first to close, and that resonates. We’re not going to be the first to open and have it be a disaster.
As Silver himself said,
The fact is now, sitting here today, I know less than I did then, and I think in some ways, just as I listen to the public health experts and the people advising us, the virus is potentially moving faster than maybe we thought at that point, so maybe it will peak earlier. What that means, in terms of our ability to come back at some point, whether it be in late spring or early summer, is unknown to me.
What a curious idea: having the virus, not the needs of billionaires and chummy unions, determine the timeline of returning to the field. We don’t need bread and circuses. We don’t need distractions. We don’t need The Running Man. We don’t need Mortal Kombat. What we need is to grow the hell up and wait this out.