Sport's death race

What we don't talk enough about when we rush back sport.

People die playing sport.  We don't think about it when a ball flies past a batsman's throat in cricket, or a car flips at Daytona. Sometimes we are partly watching for that, parental guidance lions, versos slave action. Intellectually we know that Jockeys, boxers and car drivers can die while performing for us. We're aware that Rugby and the NFL players might risk their cognitive functions and our angry tweets could be part of a player's depression that could lead to suicide.

This is all part of the social contract of many sports. The same way we know cars could be safer, but we will not pay for that level of safety. In sports, we're aware some people might die, but as long as it's not too many, we can take the risk.

After Phil Hughes died from a hit he took while batting, I speculated a moral philosopher might have a say on whether bouncers should exist. Soon after one did, and he suggested that perhaps cricket should look at whether to outlaw the bouncer. You'd think if there was any time to talk about that issue, it was when the cricket world was mourning Hughes' death. From the comments and tweets, I'd suggest that for many fans, while Hughes' passing was tragic, it wasn't a good enough reason to change the game.

Most people seemed upset at the very thought of it, or that they were being made to think about. Today that conversation is the one sports should be having, but again we don't want too.

England and the US have the two highest death tolls in the world from Covid. The US's spread is incredible, almost two million people have contracted it, and England's ability to turn positives into deaths is terrifying. I read stats for a living. If these were numbers from a team, the phone lines would be running hot for the coach to be fired.

Football and cricket are trying to come back. The NBA too, and others will follow, no one wants to miss out. Why give your enemy an advantage, get back on the field, reclaim the eyeballs that are rightfully yours, and if possible, get some off the opposition.

I get it; I have worked in two industries in my life, travel and sport, and they've been gutted both in the last few months. Quality professionals who've made excellent careers for themeless have lost their jobs, their way, and some aren't sure they'll ever make it back.

If I ran a sport's board or league, it would be my job to help these people, not to mention the real to ensure my sport's future - and present - is secure. They think they need to save their sport.

But people are dying in the UK and US at an alarming level. Remember when this was "Just the flu", you don't hear those people much anymore.  That's because people died, this was a real thing, and few days ago, over 300 people died in the UK, over a thousand in the US. Those two countries have had more than deaths than you could fit into Michigan Stadium or the MCG.

Yet the Premier League, NBA and English Cricket board were in the middle of bringing back their sports.  You read so many articles about biodomes, high fives, spit and how the players will be at Disney, and sure, I too want to know how the NBA will deal with coaches who are over 70 years old. But where are the hundreds of pieces on the moral question of rushing to bring sport back while people are dying.

There is a reason they don't exist that much, as almost everyone writing or broadcasting about sport has a stake in sport coming back. ESPN needs the NFL almost as much as the NFL do. Newspapers want sports' eyeballs and the advertising they bring. Have you ever wondered why there are so few articles or exposes int sports corruption? It's because the leagues won't out it themselves as it drops their profit. There is a cosy relationship between sportswriters who need accreditation and access to do their job, and asking tricky questions can be a problem.

I know the economic arguments of bringing sport back, hell, I'm living them. I lost 9 months of work in a week, and while I've been lucky to find ways making that up. But I'm a professional writer who's having to start a Patreon and this substack in hopes I can over time build audiences that will help me pay my mortgage.

And sport does incredible things for us, physically, emotionally,  and spiritually, bringing that back should be a priority. But not above death. In countries like New Zealand where the infection rates are incredibly low, it makes sense to bring back sport. In the UK or US you are risking people's lives, what on earth are we thinking?

A few weeks ago I made a video about how impossible it is to play cricket in the age of coronavirus.

Afterwards people from within cricket contacted me to say I was spot on, but that cricket would have to comeback anyway. One person went as far as saying it's not safe until there's a vaccine, but we can't wait that long. Another was furious at me for being part of the problem and not offering solutions. And one group chat I had was about the bad PR if you bring your sport back and it leads to a death.

And while this sounds callous and silly, I know why they're thinking this. My wife is pregnant, we need a new car, parts of my house are falling off, I need to be on cricket tours making money, doing my job. So do my freelance sports friends, writers, coaches, commentators, security guards and tour agents. They are all having to pause their lives because of this, and that is scary and tough. But top-level professional sport involves thousands of people travelling and mixing, this virus can - and probably will - spread because of this.

We hopefully won't get another biological bomb game of football for a while. And the madness around the Cheltenham race meeting won't be recreated.

So we know things will be different, but we can't be sure that no one will die because of bringing sports back while the pandemic is still killing people. When Hughes died, I wanted a look into how we can make cricket safer, but taking the bouncer - the delivery most likely to cause death away - was too much for me. If all these top leagues come back, one is going to make a mistake at least.

Because sport is about numbers and being a sports fan is about impossible Hypotheticals. So here’s a combination of those. My question to most people who want sports back right now is how many deaths are you willing to have for sports to come back?