Wiedmer: To play or not to play beginning to lean toward not

Staff photo / East Hamilton's Cade Meeks catches a touchdown pass ahead of Chattanooga Christian's Damarcus Hinton during the Times Free Press Best of Preps jamboree on Aug. 16, 2019, at Finley Stadium.

Maybe we've been going about the coronavirus pandemic thing all wrong. Maybe we should have started out with no expectations. Just operate on the assumption we're basically quarantined until further notice. Period.

Especially when it comes to expecting sports to return.

This isn't to say we shouldn't want sports back in our lives. We may even need it, or think we need it, as a diversion, reprieve, or, let's be honest, sanity saver from everything else we're dealing with at the moment that pretty much stinks like a riled-up skunk.

But with Monday evening's announcement from Gov. Bill Lee that Tennessee's state of emergency declaration will remain until Aug. 29, and Georgia's state of emergency being extended until Aug. 11, the chances of high school football starting on time, if at all, are suddenly as likely as Vanderbilt winning the College Football Playoff.

But it's not just the odds of TSSAA or GHSA football being played this fall that are rising by the minute. According to this newspaper's Jay Greeson in his daily "5-at-10" online column for Tuesday, ESPN baseball expert and Vanderbilt graduate Buster Olney said he thinks there's only a 5% chance baseball starts and 0% chance there's a World Series champ.

(READ MORE: Georgia, Tennessee coaches await expected changes to prep football season due to increase in coronavirus cases)

To that point, Major League Baseball hasn't even gotten a week through its proposed agreement to return to play later this month, and both first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross of the reigning champion Washington Nationals have already chosen to opt out of the shortened season for, according to a team release "the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones."

As for football, three blurbs from earlier this week:

1) The University of Arizona has halted its return of athletes to campus due to the growing number of coronavirus positive tests among those athletes already on campus and a huge swell in statewide cases.

2) NCAA Division III member Grinnell, an Iowa college located 45 miles east of Des Moines, announced Tuesday that it was canceling all its fall semester sports - football, soccer, golf, cross country and volleyball - amid COVID-19 concerns.

3) Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart, when asked Monday about spectators being allowed inside Kroger Field this fall for football, replied, "We're not there yet."

Then there's the NBA, which is supposed to be gathering in Orlando, Florida, next Tuesday to play in some sort of symbolic bubble, hopefully free of COVID-19, in order to crown a champion in October.

Yet with individual teams already reporting multiple positive tests, even NBA commissioner Adam Silver sounded less than certain the proposed season will proceed as planned.

"We are going to see as we go," Silver said during a media appearance Tuesday. "Certainly if cases are isolated, that's one thing. But if we had a lot of cases, we are going to stop. You cannot run from this virus."

We have tried to run from its reality for months now. From President Trump believing the pandemic would be under control by Easter, to various governors lifting stay-at-home sanctions before statistics warranted it, to too many individuals throwing common sense to the wind in bars and on beaches from coast to coast, we have ignored almost every grim warning sign.

The obvious folly and shame of that mindset is more than 129,000 American dead and nearly 2.7 million Americans infected, which has been criminally higher than it should have been according to a recent Oxford University study of how the United States, South Korea, Germany and others responded to the virus in its earliest days.

Per that study, no less than 70% of our deaths could have been prevented with earlier, stricter, more uniform guidelines for fighting COVID-19.

To be fair, we're human. We all make mistakes. In a country built on freedom of movement and individuality, getting more than 300 million people to pull the rope in the same direction may have always been asking for a major miracle.

And given that, plus the growing economic desperation we're all beginning to feel regarding jobs and businesses already lost or currently on the brink, at least some mistakes may be more fairly viewed as financial Hail Marys that came up short.

But as coronavirus cases nationwide continue to rise with the summer heat, it may also be time to face a sobering truth regarding team sports returning to action.

Or as the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum noted this week of those in charge of deciding whether or not to play football this fall: "They refuse to admit that this is an insurmountable challenge."

There may yet be a month to refute that. Though positive tests are soaring, deaths have been in a slow but steady decline since mid-May. But it may also be time for our leaders in government, education and professional sports to more strongly consider Grinnell College's reason for canceling autumn sports.

"We have approached every decision about the coming school year, including this one," it said, "using a public health framework that prioritizes the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and community."

Isn't it time for the rest of us to do the same?

photo Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.