This is our new weekly pandemic feature: Is It Safe, where we ask you what you’re comfortable with in the age of COVID-19, and what you aren’t. Read our primer to understand the concept. This week: Going to a sporting event.
In the last few weeks, essentially since the start of the college football season, there have been fans in the stands at American sporting events. College football has been the main offender, but half the NFL stadiums are allowing fans, and there will be fans at next week’s World Series in Texas. In my weekly sports column for New York, I wrote about this from a business and ethical standpoint, but in this week’s installment of Is It Safe? I want to look at it from a personal standpoint. What are the arguments for going? What are the arguments against it? Last week, I asked you for your thoughts on the matter. Having read through all of them, these are the best arguments for each side.
- You’re outside, and the seats are distanced. So far, all the sporting events that have allowed fans, in the United States and elsewhere, have been outdoors. (This may change during basketball season.) It is well-documented that being outdoors is safer right now than being indoors. Also, most stadiums are selling tickets exclusively in bulks of two or four, which makes it easier to keep six feet (or more) of distance between groups of fans. Here in Athens, Georgia, where I live, Georgia football games have seat backs in bleachers that show exactly where you can sit; get any closer to another seating pod, and security will escort you away. This has been an issue with the student sections — students tend to cram together — but otherwise, you have plenty of room. It’s certainly closer to CDC-compliant than, say, the grocery store.
- If you love sports, you need them to survive after this, and that means supporting them now. Because live, in-person sporting events as we know them may never come back. We can all argue whether or not owners’ sudden claims of poverty are good-faith claims: The idea that they’ve made billions of dollars for years and are suddenly poor because of one bad year is questionable to say the least. But! Sports, like anything else in this late-stage capitalism world, has to make a profit, or it will no longer exist. What you want to avoid is sports going the way of the movie theater: a seemingly permanent form of entertainment that might not survive the pandemic. Sports are going to change after this, and it might get harder, not easier, to go to a game. Shouldn’t you go while you can?
- At this point, isn’t this safer than anything else? Yes, yes: The safest thing to do is to never leave your house. But is that really living? If you take safety precautions, and wear a mask, and be respectful of others and conscientious, why are you not allowed to do something you enjoy? Especially when so many other people aren’t taking this seriously. Writes one reader: “every time I look out the window, the restaurants and terraces in my neighborhood are filled to the brim with people acting like this is all over and performatively rubbing hand sanitizer all over as if that makes what they are doing safe … So, yeah, if I had a chance to go back and see a game live, the one thing I love most in the world, I’d do it in a heartbeat. If everyone, including my employers, relatives and loved ones, are going to stop giving a shit then what’s the point of me trying to care?”
- Hey, I thought we weren’t supposed to be gathering? From the very beginning of the pandemic, one piece of societal advice has been clear: No big gatherings. Many states still have bans of gatherings of 50 or more people, let alone 25,000, which has been the attendance at some of these football games. And it’s not just the raw numbers; it’s that they come from many geographic areas, which means they not only bring whatever they have from where they are, they bring whatever they get at the game back with them. People can’t take their kids to see their grandparents. But you can go watch an Eastern Kentucky football game?
- There are a lot of people, you know, yelling. When I think of things that make me spontaneously jump up and scream out of nowhere, I think of sporting events and maybe, like, a spider. But the thing about yelling is that it shoots a whole bunch of potentially contagious stuff out of your mouth. “I would not go to a stadium because it would have lots of loudly-cheering people, and bad actors who won’t wear a face covering consistently and properly,” writes one reader. This is similar to the argument against gathering in houses of worship: One of the best ways to be a superspreader is to sing or scream loudly around a whole bunch of people. And nothing much does that more efficiently than a sporting event. One reader is more concise: “I’ve seen the graphic of aerosol droplets. I don’t need to be around screaming fans. Plus I’m a Jets fan.”
- We shouldn’t be distracted from the real problems in the world right now. I wrote this for New York a couple of weeks ago, but I suspect many sports fans are feeling this way right now: Sports work best when they skew your perspective, when they fool you into thinking they are more important than they actually are. But it’s pretty tough to be fooled right now. Maybe you shouldn’t go to a sporting event right now not just because it might be dangerous, but because the world is falling apart and maybe we should be giving that our full attention. As one reader put it: “Pro sports are an avenue of relaxation and letting my guard down. Attending a live event right now adds a deep unwanted distraction.” Hundreds of thousands of people have died. Millions are suffering. Children can’t go back to school. Maybe sitting in the bleachers for a meaningless diversion shouldn’t be the biggest priority right now.
I’m not sure where I fall on this one. I’ve got two tickets for a Georgia-Mississippi State game on my son’s ninth birthday on November 21. I want to take him. He wants to go. But is it safe? I don’t know the answer. It’s an excellent question. Which is why, after all, I am asking.
And now we give you next week’s question: Should you, or your children, take part in Halloween? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org your thoughts and answers to the question of the week. You can also leave your responses in the comments, or by using this form:
I’ll cull the best answers and they’ll serve as the backbone of the next Friday’s piece. So tell me what’s on your mind. I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I need yours.
Will Leitch will be writing multiple pieces a week for Medium. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.