President Trump Is Rooting For Reopening Of Professional Sports

May 13, 2020
Originally published on May 13, 2020 8:52 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The NFL has announced its fall schedule. Major League Baseball is looking to start its season in July. There is still a long way to go to get to a sense of normalcy, but the initial steps for resuming professional sports are beginning. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, that is something President Trump has been rooting for for months, even as public health experts have been much more cautious.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Last month, President Trump said something a lot of sports fans can relate to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're going to get tired of looking at 9-year-old baseball games and playoff games that took place 12 years ago.

DETROW: Networks like ESPN have been filling their airwaves with old games. They were nice at first, but many fans have grown increasingly antsy for live events. ESPN has even resorted to airing live matches of the beanbag game cornhole. But President Trump has gone beyond the typical sports fan's laments. He's circled back again and again to the idea of resuming play.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We want to have our sports leagues open. You want to watch sports. It's important. We miss sports. We miss everything. We want to get back.

DETROW: The president has held calls with professional sports commissioners and consulted several team owners, some of whom are his friends, about reopening the economy. Ari Fleischer says President Trump's instinct makes sense.

ARI FLEISCHER: He knows the American people are yearning for the things that we used to take for granted, sports being big one of them.

DETROW: Fleischer was President George W. Bush's press secretary when the Sept. 11 terror attacks stopped sports, along with everything else.

FLEISCHER: America without sports was like a heart that doesn't pump.

DETROW: Sports did have an outsized effect that fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOWIE ROSE: Lopez wants it away. And it's hit deep to left-center. Andruw Jones on the run - this one has a chance. Home run. Mike Piazza and the Mets lead 3-2.

DETROW: Mets catcher Mike Piazza gave all of New York City a cathartic moment during the late innings of the first game back at Shea Stadium.

FLEISCHER: The president was personally very cognizant of the signal it would send to the American people that we're back on our feet. You can resume your lives. Put your fear aside - as soon as sports returned.

DETROW: Mindful of those signals, President Bush produced one of the most dramatic symbolic moments of his presidency when he threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium during the World Series.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOB SHEPPARD: For tonight's ceremonial first pitch, and please welcome the president of the United States.

DETROW: But as strange as it seems, it was easier to protect against terrorism than it is to protect against a virus. The very nature of a large gathering is dangerous no matter what precautions are taken. That's why officials from Dr. Anthony Fauci on down have warned that pro sports aren't advisable anytime soon, especially with fans in the seats. Five Major League Baseball teams call California home, and California Governor Gavin Newsom has been pretty clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine.

DETROW: Still, President Trump keeps pushing for sports to return. What's more, he keeps insisting that he won't be content with games in front of empty seats.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Ultimately, we want to have packed arenas. When the virus is gone, we're going to have packed arenas, and we're going to be back to enjoying sports the way they're supposed to be.

DETROW: In a statement to NPR, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says the president is confident that with the right precautions in place, quote, "sports will continue to strengthen and unite all Americans." Still, even the sports world isn't united around the concept of resuming games. Sean Doolittle, a pitcher on the Washington Nationals, has been outspoken on his concerns about safety. He recently told the podcast "Starkville" that he's also worried about the message games would send.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN DOOLITTLE: You know, look; these guys are playing baseball, or these guys are - you know, sports are back. So everything has returned to normal. And then all of a sudden, we break social distancing measures. And we stop, you know, home quarantines too soon. And you know, it spikes again, and it gets out of control.

DETROW: And in that sense, instead of uniting, sports is once again mirroring the broader culture, showing increasing divides on how to proceed in a pandemic that shows no signs of ending.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tags: