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Murray: As a country, we haven't earned the right to play sports in 2020

Clemson
A view of a locked gate outside of Clemson Memorial Stadium on June 10 in Clemson, S.C., when the campus remained open in a limited capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

I was on the phone last week with a Wolf Pack athlete and about to hang up when the player asked a question.

"Why are we even playing this season?" the athlete said.

"It has to be the money," I responded.

Not wanting to play this season is almost certainly the minority opinion for Nevada student-athletes. When we spoke with Wolf Pack basketball player Zane Meeks for a Q&A last week, we were chatting after we taped the segment and he said, "I'd play at Sessions without fans right now. I just want to play." That's the nature of competitive athletes. And I wish we as a country took the proper precautions months ago so we could have sports for the rest of the year.

But we haven't earned the right to play sports for the rest of 2020. While the curve has been flattened across the globe, it hasn't in America. In fact, the United States set a record for single-day new cases Friday. We topped that mark on Saturday. We haven't flattened the curve at all. And while we have the capability of testing more people today compared to three months ago, our percentage of positive cases per test is up, too. We've failed the COVID-19 test.

So, again, why are we even playing this season?

The NBA, and really the entire country, shut down in March 12 when Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive. As the NBA plans on finishing its season in a bubble in Florida, the worst place to do so because of how horribly that state handled the pandemic, 16 players (out of 302) tested positive for coronavirus cases, and it's basically been a shrug. Let's move on. We're still playing.

Yes, we know more about the disease now than we did in March. But the push to play sports is all about that television money. Play enough games to satisfy the media-rights holders and cash in at least a portion of the lost revenue from a season submarined by an unprecedented pandemic.

Major League Baseball, after its weeks-long quarrel to come to a financial agreement, is the first of the traditional big four sports in America scheduled to return to play in late July. But it won't do so in a bubble like the NBA. Instead it will use the traditional bus and plane system (and those buses and planes are used by other people; teams don't have their own private jets). They'll be staying in hotels, and you'd figure many won't have the discipline to self isolate when not at the ballpark. A number of players have already tested positive with some teams shutting down facilities due to positive tests, and their players haven't even reported yet.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, our nation's top expert on infectious diseases, has expressed skepticism about whether football should be played this season, yet the NFL marches on, almost as if there isn't a pandemic outside of trying to monetize the first several rows of stadiums with ads. If any league is all about the money, it's the NFL, which for decades has tried to deny concussions lead to brain damage. Player safety takes a backseat in the league.

Given the rash of cases across the country, how does the NFL think it's going to bring 90 players and a dozen-plus coaches into training camp, many reporting less than three weeks from today, in a safe manner? You can have all the protocols in place you want, there are going to be a lot of positive tests. What if your entire quarterback room tests positive? What if your coaching staff tests positive? Football is the least likely sport to pull off a successful season given the large number of players involved and the facemask to facemask nature of the sport.

The WWE, the most well known "sport" that tried to continue through the pandemic, has reported two dozen positive tests, including announcer Kayla Braxton getting it twice as we get more evidence that people aren't immune to COVID even after contracting it and recovering. We still don't have a full picture of what the disease does to your body. It's been treated as a pass-fail test. Survive and you've passed. Die and you failed. But what are the long-term ramifications to the lungs and respiratory system of those who do require hospitalization? It could be something that lasts a lifetime.

Professional teams trying to squeeze in a season makes some sense. I hope it works out and they can get complete their year without any deaths. It makes far less sense at the college level. At least in the pros, players are getting paid handsome sums to play and have the right to opt out if they have pre-existing conditions or simply do not want to risk it. Several NBA players have already done so.

But college athletes? They aren't getting paid. They're being throw out there, risking their potential long-term health, to create wealth for coaches, administrators and the NCAA. Can they opt out and remain on scholarship? That's up to each school to decide. But some schools, namely SMU and Ohio State, have made their players sign waivers that, in part, exclude the school from liability if they do get COVID-19.

Colleges can't even have required workouts yet, but more than 150 athletes on 39 campuses have tested positive during the "voluntary" sessions. Mountain West schools Boise State and UNLV have shut down their facilities due to positive cases. MW cohorts San Jose State, Fresno State and San Diego State likely won't have on-campus classes in the fall but are planning to play, meaning it's not safe to go to class but it is safe to play football. Makes sense. What happens if one of Nevada's opponents this season has six players test positive the week leading into a game? Neither side can play that game in good conscience.

NCAA president Mark Emmert, who earns nearly $3 million a year, said last week he's "afraid and confident in my fear that we'll see more sports be dropped, whether it's programs or entire seasons canceled." Why are we in this predicament? Because we didn't take COVID-19 seriously when other countries did.

Soccer's English Premier League has successfully resumed play without major outbreaks. The league has had 17 positives out of 10,228 tests through nine rounds of testing over a month-long period. That's only 0.16 percent positive tests with less than two positive tests per round of testing, which included around 1,200 tests per session. Cross the Atlantic Ocean and Clemson alone has had 28 confirmed positives, including 23 in football. And it hasn't even started real workouts yet.

In Germany, the Bundesliga restarted May 16 and finished June 27. Spain's La Liga has successful restarted. They're playing baseball in Korea and Japan. Where other countries succeeded, we've failed. If MLB, NBA and NHL start next month and college football and the NFL shortly thereafter, somebody is going to die, be it a player or coach, as those tend to be in the riskier demographic due to their advanced age.

Both personally and professionally, I want sports back, if they can be played safely. It's hard to run a sports network, as we're doing at Nevada Sports Net, without actual sports being played. Selfishly, my job would be a lot easier, and more secure, with sports being played in 2020. But a selfish attitude like that has put us in this position with people not staying home, not wearing masks in public and not listening to those who know how to curb a pandemic better than they do.

Simply put, we haven't earned the right to play sports in 2020, which has caused us to make the following decision: health or money? Unfortunately, we know which path wins in that debate.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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