I almost went to a Yankees game this weekend. Sunday, to be specific, driven by the nearly intoxicating prospect of sitting in a real stadium watching live sports under nearly 70-degree sunlight. It felt like a moment from a dystopian film when the lead character gets to eat a real vegetable for the first time in decades. Despite that dreamy prospect, I ended up not going, many because my kids didn’t want to and because there was a lot of protocol we’d need to arrange in advance, namely getting rapid Covid tests a few hours before the game. So we ended up going putt putt golfing instead, which for the record I won. But for a fleeting moment, I was able to contemplate what it might be like to be back in a sports stadium just like the good old day in 2019, $40 parking and all.
To be clear, like my kids, I’m not a huge baseball fan, although I do prefer the live version to the televised commodity. Now when soccer season or college football season comes around, the temptation will be much greater, for both myself and my kids. So while it wasn’t necessarily worth the ordeal for a Yankees game, I think we’ll be more likely to make the sacrifice for NYCFC. This, more than anything, will be my return to normal. That and getting free samples at Costco. Right now in New York, getting into a professional ball park means either a full badge of immunity, proven through a post-dated vaccination card – or proof of a Covid test before the game. That’s six hours for a rapid test. That will earn you a chance to sit in a stadium that’s 20% full at best. Think of it like going to a baseball game in Tampa but without the roof. This is the passport to get into events around here. It seems fair to me, and especially for an outdoor event, it might be the safest place in all of New York. Once I am fully vaccinated, it’ll be a lot easier – although it’s going to be awhile until my kids get there. Regardless, if this is what it takes to climb the hill to normalcy, I’m game.
In other places, say, Texas, there is no hill, and no limit on attendance. Which is why you probably saw an uncomfortably full ballpark for the Rangers opening game in Arlington and not a whole lot of masks. It was either a celebration of our freedom or a wonderful science experiment, depending on your perspective. At the very least, research has suggested that certain widely attended sporting events have left a trail of positive Covid cases in their wake. Whether that’s going to be the case here with vaccinations on the rise is yet to be seen. And anyone with even a shed of optimism in their soul is cherry picking articles that suggest full stadiums are on the near horizon.
To be clear, I have absolutely no idea of how safe this is, will soon be, or what’s the best path forward. Just like I don’t know how to rebuild a car engine. I am completely comfortable with policies requiring vaccinations or tests, but I also know that’s a currently an atomic sized political grenade. And I imagine at some point, we’ll reach a place where the evolution of the virus is more akin to any other illness one might contract in a tight community of 50,000 strangers, which I suppose is both comforting and disgusting at the same time.
But at the end of the day, a lot of this is going to go beyond passports, vaccinations, and rapid tests. Eventually, it’s also going to be the question that we’re all dealing with as shots go in arms and days more forward. That is, when do we feel ready. That’s a psychological question as much as a medical one.
I am quite certain that had I gone to last weekend’s Yankees game, I might have felt a little weird, almost like I was breaking the rules. Even it was safe. A lot of people will feel that way six months from now, even if the science says the risk is absolutely low. Just like eating in a restaurant or getting on an airplane. There’s a lot of psychological scarring right now, and getting back into a stadium and cursing at an official might be intoxicating, but also terrifying. That, I suppose is 2021. But if sports teams want to approach a reasonable bottom line sometime soon, it’s a game they need to win.
Until then, I guess I’m stuck with putt putt. At least until soccer season.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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