"I Know the Game Like I'm Reffing It"

Friday, June 26, 2020

Sports Are Not Essential And Athletes Are Not Essential Employees

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, we have been introduced to the concept of the essential worker. The essential worker is one who must be on the frontline of this battle versus the pandemic in order to provide necessities to others or themselves.

Some examples come to mind: emergency room doctors and staff, public transportation workers, grocery store employees, restaurants and delivery workers, Amazon warehouse workers, and of course NBA, NFL, MLB and college football players.

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s right, if you listen closely to some fans, league personnel, players and coaches, and even government officials, professional and college sports and the athletes therein are being described in ways previously reserved for the traditional class of essential employees.

The most popular argument for this designation is that entertainment is essential to the public, particularly during a pandemic that has forced most of our smart and responsible citizens to refrain from activities that would provide entertainment in normal times.

Some have gone even further, claiming that sports are actually essential to the well-being of sports fans and even casual fans because entertainment would increase the public’s morale and would keep the public safe by giving us a reason to stay inside in order to watch sports on television.

“Work out the economics, if you can,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said referring to professional sports teams in New York.

“We want you up,” Cuomo said in May. “We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So, we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible and we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the sentiment may make some sense, it unfairly puts substantial pressure on the athletes. What other multi-millionaires do you know that are being pressured to put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others? Every other multi-millionaire I can think of can work in the comfort of their own home or vacation home, insulated from any possible exposure to Covid-19.

At least one professional athlete has caught on.

“Football is a nonessential business and so we don’t need to do it,” New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said on Thursday. “So, the risk has to be really eliminated before we, before I, would feel comfortable with going back.”

Jenkins will undoubtedly catch heat from a segment of society that believes he is essential for their entertainment and therefore expendable.

On the other hand, professional athletes are not being paid to sit out, so playing may be essential to some in order to feed their families, which is another category of essential worker, akin maybe to the Amazon warehouse worker.

That is a different issue.

Players should be encouraged to make up their own minds when it comes to participation and should not allow themselves to be pressured into believing that self-sacrifice on the field or court of play, for other people’s entertainment, is akin to the emergency room physician.


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