CHICAGO – When the president of the United States speaks everyone tends to listen.
So, of course, when it was reported that Donald Trump had a conference call Saturday with the commissioners of all the major professional sports in America my curiosity was piqued.
After hearing that he told reporters, “No, I can't tell you a date, but I think it's going to be sooner rather than later,” sports fans perked up across the country.
What really caught my attention was that Trump reportedly said he believes the NFL season should start on time in September.
The president clearly indicated he wouldn’t try to rush the process saying, “I think it's ... whenever we're ready. As soon as we can, obviously.”
I am not here to write about him or make him part of this story, and certainly there is nothing wrong with his offering hope to sports fans everywhere, which appears to be his purpose here.
But it does seem possible, perhaps likely, that he’s being overly optimistic.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom works for one of three states in the country with three NFL teams, and when asked by reporters Saturday whether the NFL season was likely to start on time he was far less optimistic.
“I'm not anticipating that happening in this state," he said. “It's interesting, I have a lot of friends that work in Major League Baseball and in the NFL, they've been asking me – in fact, a well-known athlete just asked me, a football player, if he expects to come back. I said, ‘I would move very cautiously in that expectation.’
“So look, I'm not here to second-guess anybody, but I am here to say this, our decision on that basis, at least here in the state of California, will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts, will be determined by our capacity to meet this moment, bend the curve and have the appropriate community surveillance and testing to confidently determine whether that's appropriate, but that's not something I anticipate happening in the next few months.”
Dr. Allen Sills is the NFL’s chief medical officer and his interpretation of the NFL’s desire to start the 2020 season on time is, “I think what was implied there was to say we are not at a point where we are saying that is absolutely not going to happen so we should continue our planning and preparations as if we're going to be able to do that.
“But obviously we're going to have to evaluate that along the way and follow what the recommendations are from public health officials and from our infectious-disease experts and others.”
Sills added, “As long as we're still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don't think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport, because we're going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
And therein lies the very serious rub.
One thing that almost every reputable expert seems to agree on is we are almost certainly at least a year away from a vaccine to prevent the coronavirus and treatments to make it go away.
While there is some hope the virus will prove to be seasonal like many others, even if it abates over the summer that still suggests it would return during the football season – well before we are fully prepared to battle it.
Perhaps athletes could play tennis, golf or dive race cars and still social distance, but is there any more direct opposite of social distancing than playing football?
This is a topic that has weighed heavily on me in recent weeks because what we all need now is hope and pleasant distractions, not having more that we love taken from us.
But the unfortunate reality may very well be that when you follow the science, it could be likely that rather than the NFL starting on time this September, we may not see the game again until we’ve solved the Covid-19 puzzle, and that appears more likely by September 2021.
Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Contact him at HArkush@ShawMedia.com.