With the emergence of the Omicron variant, a new Covid panic has swept through the country, driven by twin forces: the New York and DC-based national media, and professional sports leagues.
The National Hockey League suspended games through December 26 and all cross-border games until December 23. The National Football League scrambled to reschedule games based on over 150 players entering Covid protocols. Games were suspended, regardless of player vaccination status. The NHL touts an almost 99 percent vaccination rate. When the National Basketball Association suspended games and vaccinated Brooklyn Nets players went into the Covid protocol, they invited star player and anti-vaccination spokes-star Kyrie Irving back to the team. A day later Irving himself entered the league Covid protocol program.
All three leagues conduct broad, asymptomatic testing and players must enter protocols regardless of vaccination status. This kind of broad testing is the model currently being conducted in our government and corporate America. But with the revelation that the Omicron variant can still infect a vaccinated person, pro sports in particular should be rethinking their protocol systems. Thankfully the NFL already has, deciding to revamp their Covid rules by foregoing testing of players with no symptoms. Players with a positive test but no symptoms are free to return to team activities as well. Only players showing symptoms are kept away from their teams.
The NHL has yet to adopt these policies — and some are fed up with the rules already. Adrian Dater, a Colorado-based hockey blogger, noted in a tweet that “players, management, etc — are fed up with the Covid protocol. One called it a ‘charade.’ The overall frustrated feeling can be summed up as: ‘These are some of the fittest people on the planet, they’re vaxxed, and nobody ever gets really sick. Enough.’”
Pro athletes are the fittest human beings on the planet — and are dosed up with multiple vaccinations. Most are in their twenties. To call these protocols a “charade” would be a disservice to charades. Pro sports leagues, who have been playing for fifteen weeks to sold-out stadiums and arenas, with no mass breakouts of any kind, can and should develop the kind of common-sense measures that the NFL has adopted, and they should get their games on.
In fact, businesses, schools, universities, media companies and government agencies should all be adopting the NFL model: test the symptomatic and let them stay home. If people have no symptoms, especially professional athletes, then life has to find a way to return to normal. Omicron is here. The data shows that vaccination does not prevent infection, but rather means the illness manifests as a mild cold and cough.
The NFL model offers a path back to normalcy, out of the current media-driven malaise surrounding variants and never-ending permanent masking and lockdowns. Covid can be a tricky disease, but it’s not a death sentence for the young and relatively healthy. It’s something we are going to have to learn to live with, in life, in work, in service and in sports. Let them play.