Plenty of Americans have already learned to live with COVID-19, but many posturing elites have refused to ease up on the fearmongering and protocols, and thus a chunk of largely blue America remains paralyzed by an endemic virus. After nearly two years of this maddening standoff, an unlikely liberator could break free those stuck in the COVID era and usher them into reality: sports.
It begins with the National Basketball Association being in a bit of a bind. The NBA that toppled one of the first lockdown dominoes with its shutdown over Rudy Gobert’s COVID case back in March 2020 is the same one now threatened by that lockdown impulse as the contagious omicron variant sweeps through its rosters.
As Ethan Strauss identified in his Substack, “If we see a bit more Covid spread, the NBA’s showpiece Christmas extravaganza is very much under threat. That’s the biggest TV day in the sport, an essential element of why ESPN pays the league over a billion dollars every year. Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo now might be out for Xmas if he misses the standard 10 days and same goes for former league MVP James Harden.”
There’s more where that came from. Dozens of players are out undergoing health and safety protocols.
34 in NBA H+S Protocols
BRK: LMA, Bembry, JJ, Carter, Millsap, Harden, BB
CHI: 10 players
LAL: THT, D. Howard, M. Monk
MEM: Ja Morant
MIL: Giannis, DD, Wes Matthews
NYK: RJ Barrett, Toppin, Grimes
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) December 15, 2021
“The league is, in some ways, a victim of its own diligence. The NBA tests frequently and positive results trigger mandatory absences. It is getting tied into knots by its own conscientiousness, pushed by its safeguards into an institutionally unsafe position,” Strauss continued. But then he went on to suggest another path: “Unless, to save its skin, the NBA says goodbye to all that. Unless, the NBA decides to announce a massive rollback of testing protocols as part of life in a new era.”
To those who got on with their lives while watching the absurdity of the pandemic panic from afar, this possibility seems too good — and logical — to come to fruition, especially after what we saw from the National Football League on Thursday.
After objectionable protocols sent the NFL into battle with some players, including indispensable ones such as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the football league doubled down on some of the same theater. Its new protocols include an “intensive” return to masks, strictly virtual meetings, and grab-and-go cafeteria nonsense.
It’s par for the course that the league so badly missed the mark on some protocols, but there’s one bright spot. The NFL is now changing other protocols to allow infected players who are vaccinated and asymptomatic to get back on the field more quickly.
This loosened-up return-to-play protocol offers a tiny glimpse of logic. Rather than judging an athlete’s ability to play based on whether he’s COVID positive or negative, the league is now using a metric of contagiousness, or viral load “cycle threshold,” regardless of whether the virus is still present.
“That testing can begin as soon as one day after the initial positive and could significantly shorten the amount of time a vaccinated player spends away from the team facility,” according to ESPN.
This is good news, but until the NFL reverses course on the rest of its science-defying COVID overreacting, it’s hardly a cause for celebration. The NBA, however, has a chance to implement similar return-to-play protocols — but improve on the rest. In fact, the NBA has a chance to pave another COVID path, this time out of the lockdown impulses and into a new and brighter era of learning to live with a virus that isn’t going away.
Strauss put it best:
The NBA actually has an opportunity here to end the precautionary moment, or at least signal its ebb. … The basic plan would be to test players and team officials only if they’re obviously sick (and sit said players if they test positive). And no more of the contact tracing that’s gummed up work behind the scenes of a highly mobile industry. The message could be simple: Look, we can’t functionally operate like it’s 2020; now that the disease is endemic, and vaccines are widely available, we must move into 2022.
If the NBA wants to pull through this omicron moment successfully, it should heed that advice. But the same truths apply to non-athletes: We can’t operate like it’s 2020. We must move into 2022.
The NBA should do the right thing here, not only for itself and its players but for the rest of America. The big leagues are a force to be reckoned with; let them be a force for learning to live with COVID.