Too often and for reasons I never have understood, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a political issue. Middle ground and common sense decisions often go by the wayside.
One thing I believe we can all agree on is we want everyone to stay safe. Many just disagree about how we do so.
Sports is in the middle of this debate. Let me first say this: I know how serious COVID-19 is. It has caused so much tragedy and damaged so many lives. I was a germophobe before the pandemic, so one can imagine how paranoid I am now.
With that in mind, I can also say this: The games can and should go on. And that includes when schools are in remote learning.
I’m sure detractors will try to say I am putting sports above safety but that’s nonsense. My point is if the games can be played safely — and they have been since last summer — than they should continue. The safety protocols adopted by the PIAA and school districts have worked. We are a day from completing a fall sports season which many thought could never happen, but that was safely achieved.
Studies and countless examples have shown sports fields, courts, etc., do not cause COVID-19 outbreaks. Sports have actually been one of the safe havens because the virus is taken so seriously and because so many protocols have been followed.
The problem now is Gov. Tom Wolf saying that schools which go remote should not have extra-curricular activities. Listen, I am not going political and will never rip someone for trying to keep people safe, but the governor is out of his element here. He has not been out watching schools safely hold extra-curriculars. He almost always has failed to grasp how much these activities mean toward the general well-being of the students. He has sent out so many contradictory messages and tried to paint this crisis with one broad stroke when, obviously, one size does not fit all.
As it was in the fall, athletics and other extra-curricular activities should be left to the PIAA and the schools themselves who best understand their situations. Even in remote mode the kids are still having school, so why should the activities that they love and go hand and hand with school be taken away?
In fact, having school remotely probably is the safest way possible for schools to have their cake and eat it, too. The students still are receiving an education and would essentially be in a bubble format playing sports which has worked so well in the NHL and NBA.
If the players and coaches are doing school online and going to just practices and games they greatly reduce the risks COVID causes. Even when students have been in school this largely has been the case. A football season was completed and few sports involve more close contact. If a sport like that can safely go on, then so can winter sports.
I’ve said this before and will again. Those who turn their noses at sports and dismiss them moving forward never have played them or been associated with someone who did. Anyone who has competed and/or watched a sibling, child or friend compete understands the results are secondary. The kids simply love competing, being with their friends, setting goals, trying to knock them down and creating memories which last a lifetime. For some athletes, sports offer a means to a better life, creating opportunities that otherwise might not exist.
Go tell all those winter sports athletes who have spent countless hours preparing for these seasons that sports don’t matter. Go tell all the athletes who achieved so much this past fall that sports don’t matter. Go tell a community like Jersey Shore which has rallied around its state finalist football team which has given them something positive in such trying times that sports don’t matter.
Again I fully understand and appreciate the desire to keep everyone safe. And I wouldn’t be advocating for sports going on if they had not already proven that they can safely be played. But they have and taking them away damages the students who love them so much. Again, several studies have revealed the mental and psychological damage eliminating sports has caused. What one thinks keeps the kids safe might actually do more harm.
These kids already have lost so much, starting with last spring when their seasons were eliminated before they started. So much of what can make the junior high/high school experience so rewarding has been taken away. Don’t take something else away, something which the students can never get back.
High school athletes only get four cracks at this experience. It’s a special time in their lives and what they need now are special solutions, not broad declarations which often are not rooted in actual evidence.
Going remote should not mean shutting down sports. Neither should COVID as long as the games can go on safely-as they have since June.
I am all in on fighting this virus as we all should be. But it’s up to the schools, the districts and people to make sure that the governor also is fighting for these kids.
Chris Masse may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.