UFC and Dana White leading the way in the age of coronavirus for the return of professional sports to the American landscape is like Hell’s Angels kicking off a Fourth of July parade.
The notion that the purported success of last weekend’s UFC 249 event without fans in a Jacksonville, Florida, test tube is some kind of blueprint for other sports to follow is as solid as a White House press briefing celebrating the response to the virus that continues to rapidly grow.
So you can certainly understand why President Trump taped a message before the show even took place congratulating Dana White and UFC for their experiment.
“I want to congratulate Dana White and the UFC,” Trump said in a tape that was played on ESPN during the undercard. “They’re going to have a big match. We love it. We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. Do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. We need sports. We want our sports back.”
What we saw with UFC 249 this weekend raises more questions than answers. Middleweight Jacare Souza, who was scheduled to fight Uriah Hall, tested positive for the virus Friday, as well as his two cornermen, according to reports.
They were taken off the card and moved someplace else to self-isolate and will be monitored remotely by UFC medical personnel — at least that’s what we’ve been told.
How do we call the event a success until the three in question clear quarantine and there are no others associated with the show — fighters, trainers, broadcasters, UFC officials — who test positive?
How will we know that? From Dana White?
UFC is run like a fiefdom, and White is the judge, jury and executioner. UFC 249 fighters had to sign an agreement that would punish them with loss of their purses and financial bonuses if any of them defamed or disparaged UFC over their health and safety protocols, according to Yahoo Sports
White told Yahoo Sports it was an “anti-disparagement” clause that was standard in their contracts and denied there would be any consequences for a fighter who spoke the truth publicly. But we know that is an elusive commodity these days.
White chose Florida to hold his experiment — a state where the governor is withholding coronavirus death numbers from the public, according to the Miami Herald.
Here is the truth as of today — 80,000 virus deaths in the U.S. in less than three months, a rate now more than 2,000 a day and rising. And beyond that, nobody knows anything for sure, on all sides of the debate to fight and control the virus.
Yet people are ready to declare UFC 249 as some sort of canary in the coal mine, and insist the canary emerged singing a song.
What assurances do they have that the death rate will go down when they plan on opening up for baseball, football, basketball, hockey and other? None? So stop declaring that White opened the door for others to follow.
Baseball, football, basketball and hockey players are not UFC fighters. Their sports are not run by a king. They have unions, and they will have questions about safety and security not just for them, but for their families.
You can be sure that in a number of homes in all of those sports, wives will be having serious and possibly contentious debates with spouses about the risks for returning to work. Then there are the older managers, coaches and other support personnel who may be more susceptible to the virus. What will their protections be?
Testing every day, every hour? While the rest of the country watches their family members die without access to the privileged testing for professional athletes?
“What’s the plan to ethically acquire enough tests?” Washington Nationals reliever Sean Dolittle tweeted Monday afternoon. “What’s the protocol if a player, staff member, or worker contracts the virus? We want to play. And we want everyone to stay safe.”
There may be answers in the weeks to come — perhaps a treatment that reduces the damage and death risks from contracting the virus. But only questions exist today. Nothing was answered in Jacksonville last weekend.
Sports league have to plan for a return — Major League Baseball owners approved a plan Monday to start the season around the Fourth of July weekend — but it’s all wishful thinking because no one knows what the coronavirus landscape will look like on the Fourth of July.
There are plenty of voices who claim they do, but the reality is no one knows what the death rate will be in America on the day celebrating the birth of our nation — not even the great Dana White.
• You can hear Thom Loverro Tuesdays and Thursdays on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast.