Money speaks more loudly than common sense

Mike Jiggens

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Efforts by major sports leagues to either finish their aborted campaigns or begin new seasons amid the current COVID-19 pandemic have taken several twists and turns over the past few months – forward and backwards – to the point where one has to wonder if it’s even worth it.

The NHL is poised to put closure to its 2019-20 season with a “tournament” starting next month to ensure a Stanley Cup champion is crowned. All play will take place in two hub cities – Edmonton and Toronto. It’s a hackneyed solution that will delay the start of the 2020-21 season, but it’s money that’s doing the talking.

Major League Baseball is no better in its plans to get its 2020 season off the ground. The start of its significantly shortened season is imminent, and there was one rather unsettling aspect of the game’s return. Toronto’s Rogers Centre was looking like it might be given the governmental green light to allow the Blue Jays to play on their own home field, with visiting players granted a “get-out-of-jail-free” card that wouldn’t mandate they quarantine 14 days upon crossing the border.

This disturbing bit of news could have had grave consequences as Ontario’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 might have taken a giant step backwards. Efforts to stop the spread of the virus south of the border have been reckless and far behind the pace we’ve taken in Canada. There were several players who had tested positive for the virus in the weeks leading up to opening day, and undoubtedly there will be more to come. Thankfully, our federal government had the presence of mind to nix the Blue Jays’ plans, forcing them to find a “home” field on U.S. soil.

Avid fans miss their hockey, baseball and other sports, but I’d be curious to know what the division is between those who are content to see these leagues write off their seasons for a year and those who want them back ASAP, no matter the cost. I’m among the former.

It’s pretty hard to get excited about watching hockey or baseball without the presence of fans in the seats. The cheering and booing are key elements to the enjoyment of the game. Some broadcasters are talking about adding canned spectator sounds to give empty stadiums a certain ambience and even adding CGI “fans” on long camera shots. It’s the sporting world’s equivalent to laugh tracks injected into sitcoms.

One can argue that the return of major sports provides therapeutic value to a population that has been deprived of such for the past several months. Although the return of live sports is a better option than being continually force fed a diet of “classic” games on television, all of the adjustments that need to be made to pull it off for a sub-par experience hardly seems worth it. An asterisk will be placed next to the names of these respective league champions.

Personally speaking, I’d rather see all of these major sports leagues throw their efforts behind putting an end to COVID-19 and not risk jacking up the numbers. Just write off the season for a year and start fresh when it’s safe to do so. But when billions of dollars are at stake, I suppose money speaks louder than common sense.

Interestingly, some sports are confronted with a second challenge this year, being pressured to replace certain politically incorrect nicknames with inoffensive monikers. Some of these teams have dug their heels into the ground, wishing to hang on to tradition. There is a lot of money involved in these decisions as well, so it will be interesting to see how this situation pans out.

Whether it’s hockey in August, a baseball season one-third its normal length, a Canadian team forced to play its home games out of country or teams being pressured to change their names, sports in 2020 will not be soon forgotten.

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