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Please Advise! In the Big Virus vs. Sports Matchup, Who Wins?

When my favourite team’s bubble burst, so did mine. Call your shot, Dr. Steve!

Steve Burgess 8 Apr 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

As the third wave takes hold, I need diversion more than ever. But now the Canucks are sidelined until further notice. Must sports be ruined too?


Couch Bound

Dear CB,

Last summer, the NHL playoffs took place inside a bubble. This spring, the Canucks’ bubble has burst like a wet sneeze at an anti-mask rally. Even without fans in the arena, the Canucks find themselves doing the (third) wave. As of Wednesday, the team has reported 21 positive cases among players and four among staff. The infections are all believed to be variants — one Canuck, forward Jayce “Lucky” Hawryluk, now has COVID for the second time. This guy will have enough antibodies to start a fantasy league.

Another bubble remains intact though — the one inhabited by Republicans like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Determined to ignore the realities of spring 2021, Abbott, having already removed mask-wearing restrictions in his state, allowed baseball’s Texas Rangers to fill up the stadium for their home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday. Talk about your opening day giveaways — everybody had a chance to go home with something. You didn’t even need a 50/50 ticket to play. The Jays would go on to hit a couple of home run balls into the stands that day, thus giving Texas fans something else they could catch. The whole spectacle offered a twist on the gladiatorial aspect of pro sports — this time it was the spectators risking a thumbs-down from the merciless master of their fates.

Can sports exist on a plane apart from society at large? If Jackie Robinson were still around, we might ask him. Failing that, we had this scenario in Arlington: Although the Rangers had a full stadium in the middle of a pandemic, Gov. Abbott refused to attend. Why wasn’t he present to revel in this defiant spectacle of American liberty? The governor was upset because Major League Baseball had shown its disapproval of Georgia’s new voting law by moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. So the politician who had filled a stadium in defiance of public safety was boycotting baseball for supporting the right to vote. Behold the unifying power of sport circa 2021. (Also tied into an ideological pretzel was Colorado congressional crazyperson Lauren Boebert, who initially joined Donald Trump in calling for a baseball boycott, only to go silent when the All-Star Game was relocated to her home state. Baseball may be a fine game, but Republicans tend to be better at Twister.)

For a pandemic-weary populace, sports are supposed to be a distraction. It’s a nice idea, really. The whole bubble concept adopted by the NHL, NBA and Major League Soccer was intended to work on a couple of levels. While primarily a way to protect pro athletes, coaches and staff, it also served to create a safe space for fans who wanted relief from wall-to-wall COVID awareness. The return of pro sports could then be defended as a public service, a way to make the lockdown just a little bit more palatable for the inmates, perhaps even leading to greater compliance by making the couch a more attractive place. Dr. Steve certainly liked to think of it that way last August as he watched the likes of Vancouver hockey players Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko be transformed into the unlikeliest boys of summer.

Unfortunately, the Vancouver Canucks have more recently been transformed from a distraction into an object lesson. Dr. Bonnie Henry could hardly come up with a better demonstration of viral transmission than the one currently being played out by B.C.’s pro hockey team. Wondering how fast the variants can spread? Wondering whether the variants can infect people who’ve already had COVID? Wondering whether young, well-conditioned people can still get seriously ill? Ladies and gentlemen, your Vancouver Canucks.

A sports team is supposed to represent a city. It is supposed to provide a focus for a community, joining residents together in a common cause. On that front, you’d have to say the Vancouver Canucks have fulfilled the mandate this spring. Dr. Steve wishes affected players and staff a speedy and complete recovery. Until then, let us all continue to play solid defence.  [Tyee]

Read more: Coronavirus

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