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Billy Reed: Sports world must get over entitlement, protect fans and players by taking virus seriously


At this very moment, my younger granddaughter is in Richmond, Va., participating in a field-hockey tournament. I kid you not. Why in the world this thing wasn’t postponed is beyond me.

我希望她将使用冠状病毒as an excuse not to go. But she loves to play the sport and she didn’t want to let her teammates down. I have to applaud her for that. When you’re on a team, you have to be all in.

So on Friday, she and her dad took off for Richmond. They are scheduled to be home sometime tonight (Sunday). Her mother told me her team lost the first two of the five games it was scheduled to play.

This is as close as I’ve gotten to being personally involved in the weirdest sports year ever. It began in March with the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament after the first round. Since then, nothing has made much sense.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby.His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

I admit to enjoying the Cincinnati Reds’ abbreviated schedule. My rationale is that baseball is a non-contact sport, lowering the chances of any of the players catching the virus. But I was, and still am, opposed to playing football or basketball, especially at the collegiate level.

This is one case where athletes get special treatment, but not in a good way. While their fellow students are staying home and taking classes online, they are forced to stay on campus and practice.

Already during the football season, we have seen so many game cancellations, not to mention players and coaches being knocked out by the virus, that it’s making as much sense as playing in empty stadiums.

Maybe, even in a normal season, Alabama or Notre Dame would have proved to be the best team. But who can say for sure? So many traditional powers have played with rosters decimated by the virus or had games canceled, that whoever is declared national champion will deserve to have a huge asterisk by their name.

And why on earth are all the bowl games being played as usual? In these tough economic times, a lot of fans don’t have the disposable dollars to drive to a host site, where they will neither be able to get into the stadium or go on the usual shopping and partying sprees.

I realize I’m in the minority because now we know how many Americans are truly addicted to their sports, teams, and heroes.

When the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced late last summer that they were canceling the football season, the backlash was so strong that the member schools of each were forced to either change their minds or face the loss of big-money alumni donors and boosters.

Predictably, they changed their minds.

To me, the college football season was entirely unsatisfying on every level. And, with apologies to coaching friends such as Scotty Davenport of Bellarmine and Brian Lane, I’m not expecting the basketball season to be much better.

Already a lot of the early games have been canceled or postponed. Players will catch the virus as the season goes on. And in basketball, unlike football, all it will take to ruin a team’s season is the loss of one or two key players.

We already know that next March, the NCAA is going to try and create protective “bubbles” by playing all 66 of its D-I men’s tournament games in Indianapolis. More weirdness, although probably prudent.

I don’t doubt that our colleges and universities are doing everything they can to protect the players. Yet this virus is so new, and so deadly, that the science and medical communities are still trying to figure it out.

When the much-ballyhooed vaccines finally are available, I wonder where college athletes will rank in the pecking order of who gets them first.

The list will be topped by doctors, nurses, and first responders. Then will come the sick and the elderly. I would assume the athletes would be lumped in with their fellow students, but maybe somebody in power will try to move them farther up the ladder.

Surely we can go a year without the sports we love to watch. Then again, maybe not. Sadly, sports fans seem to be showing little empathy for the health and welfare of the coaches and players. All they care about is being entertained, which I think shows how skewed our priorities have become.

But, as we already knew, big-time college sports are a big business that brings in a lot of TV money and other revenue, especially to the so-called “Big Five” conferences of NCAA D-I.

So never mind the empty stadiums and gyms. Never mind the potential damage to players and coaches. The games will go on, by heaven, because, well, it’s the American Way. Nobody is going to take our sports entertainment away from us.

I’m just hoping right now that my younger granddaughter returns safely from Richmond. I don’t care a thing about how many games her team won or lost. But I care a lot about her needless exposure to the Coronavirus.

I love sports as much as anybody. It has been a big part of my life. But I don’t need it the way a junkie needs dope. I would be perfectly happy to watch movies on cable TV or finally read those books that have been stacking up.

I recall a sign I once saw long ago in the University of Minnesota locker room. It said: “Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat.” I thought that was typical of the coach’s mindset, which made me question his morals and values.

Trust me, there are many things in life “much worse than defeat. How many stories do we know of players and teams getting humiliated, only to get up, dust themselves off, and go on to glory?

So my sign would say: “The Coronavirus is much worse than defeat because it can mean death if we don’t take all precautions to be as safe as possible.”

The sports world and its fans need to get over their sense of entitlement and put the safety of its players and coaches above all else. If they do, we’ll get back to the normalcy we all want sooner rather than later.


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