- - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

First they came for the reporters.

Then … well, nobody knows what happened then because there were no reporters to tell everyone about it.

Three of the major sports leagues in America — the National Basketball Association, the Nationals Hockey League and Major League Baseball — are closing access for reporters to locker rooms and clubhouses to protect their athletes from the coronavirus.

Major League Soccer took the same steps as well, but it may be too late. They may already be infected by a virus. Last week, Los Angeles FC owner Larry Berg predicted MLS will surpass baseball in popularity over the next 10 years — even though the league’s average attendance has been dropping and is actually lower than it was four years ago.

Someone take that guy’s temperature, please. Good thing a reporter is around to call Berg on his feverish claim.

The major leagues declared they have taken the step of barring reporters from locker rooms and clubhouses after consulting with infectious disease and public health experts. You can certainly understand why, being that reporters are vermin, rats and snakes and known carriers of the disease known as news.

As the great Edward G. Robinson said in the journalism film, “Unholy Partners” — what people want to get in the paper is advertising. What they want to keep out is news.

Make no mistake about it — reporters are seen as pests by most athletes, invading their homes. Some may tolerate the pests more than others. But when the lights go on and we scatter, they are glad to see us leave.

Hall of Famer Eddie Murray had a legendary animosity toward reporters. Near the end of his career, I developed a good relationship with him. Even so, in his final year with the Angels in 1997, when they came to Baltimore to play the Orioles, I went over to the visitor’s clubhouse to talk to him. One of his teammates walked by and gave Murray a stunned look that he was talking to a reporter. Murray saw him and said, “It’s OK. He’s the nonpoisonous kind.”

Now — no more pests. The coronavirus has eliminated them.

Assurances have been given that these access restrictions are temporary measures. But reporters have watched as their ability to gather news has diminished over the years. Nobody knows how long these restrictions will last, but the longer life goes on without reporters chronicling stories that come from behind the wall, the longer everyone believes they can live without news.

After all, we are at the stage in our culture where people can’t tell the difference between news and advertising, and those distortions have somehow diminished news value, rather than enhance it. Life is easier when the messages aren’t complicated with facts and truth.

I know. You don’t care.

It may be moot anyway, because the way containment for this virus is progressing, it’s likely that no one will be allowed in any proximity of the players — fans included. Public events are being cancelled at a rapid pace. The Ivy League has called off its conference tournament. Santa Clara County in California has banned large gatherings — including San Jose Sharks games. I mean, the entire country of Italy has closed down.

As experts contend that things will get worse before they get better, the likelihood increases that live sporting events will soon be a casualty of the coronavirus. Then everything will be a television show.

The Centers for Disease Control has recommended people over 60 years old stay home. Yet baseball has seen fit to continue their spring training schedules in Florida and Arizona.

“We are regularly conveying the guidance from these experts to clubs, players, and staff regarding prevention, good hygiene practices and the latest recommendations related to travel,” MLB said in a statement. “We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary. While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.”

Are you kidding me? Everyone that goes to spring training games in Florida is over 60 years old. I covered the Orioles when they played their spring training games in St. Petersburg, and we used to joke it was the only place you took attendance before AND after games.

Paying customers, though, are essential personnel. Reporters are nonessential. In the big scheme of what is going on in our world today facing this coronavirus, reporters banned from locker rooms and clubhouse to create a sense of safety is inconsequential. People are frightened and looking for answers. Our world has been turned upside down.

But the world will right itself someday, and things will return to normal. Normal, though, may be a world without snakes, vermin and rats in the houses of athletes.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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