Over the last 5 days, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has staged 2 full card events. At the risk of infecting the 300 people involved (including fighters and their camps), the UFC pushed forward with the first mass-market sporting event in America since the coronavirus imposed sports break.
I’m a fight fan, and this event was a mixed bag of emotion for me. In my previous articles, I’ve taken the stance that social distancing and mask-wearing are things we ought to be doing. I think that limiting our contacts until we have a clearer idea of what we are really facing is a wise thing to do. If that means living in lockdown and some very uncomfortable economic situations for a lot of people, that’s a hard but necessary call to make.
America’s response to the pandemic has been uniquely American. As our numbers climb and our citizens start to get lockdown fatigue we’re characteristically arguing about our freedom and accusing each other of hidden motives. Sports have the ability to bring us together and most of all provide a distraction. America could use a good dose of distraction that isn’t coming from the White House, Congress, or apparently the Department of Justice.
But damn if I didn’t enjoy having live-action sports on my screen for a night, and I think sports might just be a risk worth taking. At least for the next two weeks.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing at the outset. Friday morning after weigh-ins, fighter Jacare Souza’s tests from the previous days returned positive for COVID-19. A quick cloud of uncertainty weighed in the air until the Florida commission reassured all that the event could proceed, and Dana White declared the system had worked.
The event went on to be, by all accounts, a great show, and social media and PPV buy reports certainly reflect it. The UFC showed that it can be done, though we are waiting through an anxious incubation period to see if anybody at the event was or has been infected.
NASCAR is planning its return this weekend in South Carolina. Socially distanced racing, in theory, should be possible, the crews are already generally covered head to toe in protective gear to begin with, adding some masks shouldn’t be too much of an issue and in most cases, crews can work on different sections of the cars separately. It too remains to be seen how effective the pages and pages of measures implemented will be, but much like the UFC; we’ll know in about two weeks.
We’re to the point where our national discourse has taken us past the point of no return in regards to a nationwide lockdown or extended stay at home compliance. The name of the game now is risk management. Some sports will handle it better than others and it comes with risks. As much as it makes me uncomfortable I have to acknowledge the drivers, crews, NASCAR staff, and broadcasters’ choice to go back to work. I’m sure in many cases it’s not out of a sense of duty, or patriotism but one of economic survival.
Regardless, you can bet when the green flag waves at Darlington, I’ll be feeling okay about America for a few laps. Sports are funny that way.