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Pro sports wait for big comeback

Entertainment | Leagues ponder what post-COVID-19 play will look like
by Sharon Dierberger
Posted 4/28/20, 05:48 pm

Before COVID-19, only two days a year had no scheduled professional sports activity—the day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July. Now, sports fans might have to wait a year before they can see another Stanley Cup or NBA playoffs or a rematch between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are out for revenge after learning in the off-season that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title is tainted by a cheating scandal.

As some states begin to cautiously reopen businesses, sports leagues are exploring how they can recoup some of the time and money lost to the pandemic. President Donald Trump sounded optimistic during two April teleconferences with league commissioners and team owners, as well as a news conference promoting the return of sporting events. But while the higher-ups in sports say they’re looking for innovative solutions, few are offering specifics.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has provided the most detail on what a delayed opening day could look like. He said MLB is exploring a plan to move all 30 teams to the Phoenix area to play on Arizona spring training fields, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, and possibly college facilities. Other proposals include sending teams to Phoenix; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Austin, Texas. The games would have no fans in the stands, and officials would tightly control field and lodging conditions for players, team personnel, media, and technicians. Health workers would test everyone regularly for the coronavirus.

Still, Manfred knows he needs state and local government approval and is proceeding slowly. “We have tried to be cautious about trying to go too soon, based on what the public health situation is,” he told The Boston Globe.

Andrew Miller, a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and an executive committee member of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said that while MLB officials have floated some ideas, “nothing is even close to being put in place.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has suggested games could potentially move forward with weekly tests and rigorous surveillance. A fan of the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals himself, he said he’s eager for baseball’s return.

Games in empty stadiums wouldn’t solve all the problems of lost jobs and revenue. And not all players are on board. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw has concerns about separating players from their families to relocate teams. “I don’t think that’s doable if you’re talking about doing that for four or five months,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Pro basketball and hockey executives have fewer ideas for salvaging their seasons.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently considered trying to revive part of the league’s season, which normally extends into June, by restarting this summer with shortened playoff rounds and the finals in Las Vegas. The NBA could lose more a $1 billion this year, not including losses in related industries like hotels and restaurants. The league may open practice facilities on May 8 for individual player workouts in states like Georgia that have loosened restrictions.

Likewise, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sees no easy way to resume the hockey season, which halted last month with 85 percent of the regular season schedule complete. Normally, the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in April. Bettman sees playing this summer as one possibility and hopes to make a decision this week. “We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light,” he said. “Nothing’s been ruled in. Nothing’s been ruled out.”

Getty Images/Photo by Photo by Vince Bucci/AFP Getty Images/Photo by Photo by Vince Bucci/AFP Chicago’s Michael Jordan (left) guarded by Kobe Bryant in a game between the Bulls and Lakers in Los Angeles in February 1998

Like Mike

Move over Tiger King. A new documentary series rules America’s imagination, and its subject is worthier of the crown.

ESPN’s The Last Dance has received both critical and audience praise. An average of 6 million people watched the third and fourth episodes that aired recently. The series, which was originally scheduled for June but moved up because of the coronavirus pandemic, draws on unseen footage from the Chicago Bulls 1997-1998 championship season and includes interviews with various members of the team and front office, along with recollections from other athletes and celebrities—former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton make notable appearances. But make no mistake: The star of the show is "His Airness,” Michael Jordan.

Viewers who grew up in the grunge decade will remember why, in the words of the 1991 Gatorade jingle, every kid wanted to “Be like Mike.” The documentary highlights the beauty of Jordan’s style and how he made everything from dunking to speaking with reporters look easy.

The Last Dance also explores cultural changes that will make it difficult—if not impossible—for future players to recreate anything approaching Jordan’s aura. He forged his legacy before the age of social media, allowing him to keep the everyday Michael private while the world cheered the public persona. Maybe we’d be better off if we still didn’t know what our heroes ate for breakfast, whom they vote for, or what kind of toilets they use.

Jordan gives fans a glimpse behind the curtain with a few interviews in his home, drink and cigar in hand. His language is less filtered than in the past, but ESPN2 is airing a version of the series with profanities and obscenities censored. But in the end, Jordan shows he understands the power of mystery, and no matter how tight the camera shot, he still keeps his distance.

A line from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance applies well to the Jordan mystique: “When the Legend becomes fact, print the Legend.” The Last Dance follows this advice, and audiences may be better off for it. ESPN airs new episodes on Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT. —Jim Hill

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite (file) Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite (file) Willie Robertson

Dynasty in danger

Police in West Monroe, La., have arrested a man suspected of a drive-by shooting at the estate of Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson.

Robertson is the CEO of Duck Commander, a business founded by his father that makes duck calls and other hunting gear. It was also the subject of the wildly popular reality show that aired on A&E from 2012 to 2017.

A pickup truck drove by and fired eight to 10 shots on Friday at the estate where many of the Robertsons are hunkered down during the pandemic. “It looks like they were just spraying bullets across my property,” Robertson told The News-Star in Monroe. He said no one was hurt, but “everybody had been out just five minutes before.”

On Sunday, police placed Daniel King Jr. in custody in connection with the shooting. They did not disclose his motive.

The Robertsons are known for their conservative and evangelical beliefs. In 2013, A&E briefly canceled Duck Dynasty because of comments Robertson’s father, Phil, made defending his Biblical view of marriage and sexuality. Executives reinstated the show after an uproar from fans.

Robertson’s daughter Sadie posted an update for her followers on Instagram: “We have been resting on Psalm 91 and each other’s gratitude for all being okay.” —Lynde Langdon

Changes in Tinseltown

The COVID-19 crisis has made some actors hesitant to come into close contact with their co-stars on the set. That could mean less movie and TV scenes showing physical intimacy. Film executive Amanda Blumenthal told London’s Daily Mail she expects sex scenes to become scarce in Hollywood as agents, studios, and insurance carriers work out the safety details once filming resumes after the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s if big-screen productions come back at all. Financial analyst Michael Nathanson released a report last week titled “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in which he predicted the coronavirus-induced shift to at-home streaming platforms over movie theaters will become permanent.

“When this is all done, the top streaming platforms—Netflix, Amazon, and Disney—will emerge with the lion’s share of scripted content creation,” he wrote, according to Deadline. He also said advertising dollars will likely follow audiences to streaming for good. —L.L.

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Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a correspondent and reviewer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate. She has served as a university teacher, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, businesswoman, and Division 1 athlete. She resides in Stillwater, Minnesota, with her husband, Bill.

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