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Kingerski: Why Sports Must Restart, What they Mean to You and Me

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NHL Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jared McCann

Professional sports and the NHL season shouldn’t resume during this coronavirus pandemic because tens of millions of dollars or Billions of dollars are at stake. Money isn’t everything and surely isn’t the best reason to refire the engine of sports leagues in North America. No, sports must restart because of what they mean to us, as people, as a country, and as a society.

Sports and athletes are leaders, whether Charles Barkley likes it or not. We look to sports in times of trouble and crisis. We look to sports not as a distraction but as a bond with our neighbors, friends, and our broader community.

Sports are a part of us at a time when we’ve lost much ourselves. As very poorly named “social media” tears at our fabric by fomenting the worst of our worst, and the worst of our best 280 characters at a time, sports is the glue that binds all of us together. And my God, do we need games now more than ever.

Football carried our country past the JFK assassination as baseball did when we mourned the losses of 9/11.

“If you throw from the base of the mound, they’ll boo you,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter told President George W. Bush as the President reopened baseball and America at Yankee Stadium in October 2001. Bush threw the first pitch from the rubber.

It’s time we start talking about throwing from the rubber again, too.

We’re fighting an invisible enemy in the coronavirus (COVID-19) which doesn’t care, has no home but lives everywhere, and one simple social greeting can unleash a chain of events which ends in death for a loved one. For that danger, we’re locked at home. When we venture into the suddenly frightening world, we stare angrily or verbally push away people who invade our space because of the potential consequences.

I’ll be spending Easter Sunday alone. How about you? I’m doing it not because I do not have family or friends, but because I couldn’t bear the thought of infecting them. I live in an urban area, and though I have no symptoms after a month of quarantine, I’m sure I’ve either come into contact with the virus or had narrow misses. I’m sure many of you will stay home, too. Or should.

And I get why I’ve received many strong responses to every story about leagues investigating return-to-play scenarios. You have the same fear for your favorite athletes and teams that I have for infecting my family.

As one senior advisor to an NHL club recently told PHN regarding efforts to restart the NHL season, “Let’s get real here.”

I get it. I really do. Fear is a powerful motivator, and it affects our thinking. However, skipping past Mike Tomlin’s cliches about “living in our fears,” we need sports.

Leagues are investigating the feasibility of restarting as they should. As they must. The sports leagues aren’t investigating logistics of travel or shortened schedules as much as they are investigating the feasibility of keeping their athletes and personnel safe. If MLB plays at 10 spring training sites, can they keep 900 MLB players safe? If the NHL rolls out the Stanley Cup in Grand Forks, ND, can the league keep 700 players safe?

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban thinks we may see basketball in June.

Sports will be the leaders; a nation turns its lonely eyes turn to you.

This career and this job put me in the middle. As a sports media professional for about 20 years, most of which was spent in radio before turning my attention to the keyboard a few years ago, I see the game of sports from different angles.

I’m in between the sports franchises and the fans. Daily, it’s figuratively like standing in the middle of a battlefield with a notebook, telling each side what the other is doing while bullets whizz past, and some are aimed for me. That position also allows me to understand the franchise and league position, in a personal way.

Sports employees and athletes are not posters or figures on TV. They’re real people. They’re as genuine as you and I, and their business just so happens to be public. Understand clearly, leagues are NOT going to take dangerous risks. Don’t forget, the leagues are also run by lawyers who know other lawyers are just waiting to sue if there is the slightest negligence.

I firmly believe the participants can be protected at a neutral site to restart the NHL season in July or several controlled sites, as MLB is considering. It won’t be easy. It will take time to plan. It will take additional quarantine measures for the participants and frequent testing of both the participants and the sites.

I would be more than willing to be a part of this, too.

But imagine the excitement when someone takes that first step onto a field, a court or NHL ice. Imagine tens of millions of homebound people grinning ear to ear not because their team won, but because someone could play.

And our economic structure could begin to move again, even in the smallest of ways.

Sports have the chance to be the ray of sunshine as the nightly news pounds us over the head with body counts and tragic stories. Sports can bring us closer to real life, again, even if we’re relegated to watching on TV and barred from being there. And wouldn’t that do wonders for our morale and our country?

Sports comfort us in times of trouble. And I can think of no better entities to lead us out of this mess. That’s what sports mean to us.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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