Scott Baker’s Walkin’ the Sidelines: To play or not to play? That’s the question

To play or not to play, that is the billion dollar question.

The boys of fall. Friday night lights. Homecoming. Stadium crowds. A winning goal. A thunderous spike. An electric volley.

These and many other sites, sounds and feelings of fall are surely in jeopardy. The COVID-19 pandemic has continued its march and is threatening to force the postponement or cancellation of fall sports.

Already we’ve seen numerous college conferences cancel their fall sports seasons. That is extremely unfortunate. For those who would say that “it’s just football” or “it’s just soccer” or whatever, please understand that we are talking about so much more.

Nationwide, there are many billions of dollars a year spent on sports. We have multiple television stations, stores and thousands of jobs dedicated and connected to the sports inudstry.

I completely understand that some do not like those facts. However, that does not change the truth. I argue with the scales every morning when I wake up. I hate what it tells me: eat a little less and exercise a little more. Kind of sounds like a visit to the doctor.

OK, back to sports and the sports culture that we have in the United States. Being a high school coach, I’m not educated on all the impacts of sports at the collegiate level but I do know this: many colleges and universities have already begun cutting programs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Make no mistake, those cuts have come as the result of a huge loss of sports revenue. Along with those program cuts will come a huge reduction in scholarship opportunities for many young people who may otherwise not have the opportunity to attend those schools.

Many associated with collegiate sports will be jobless. No, I’m not referencing coaches but rather the many support personnel, as well as the many hundreds of thousands who are employed by industries that benefit from sports.

Restaurants, hotels, security firms, food distributors, and on and on will be greatly impacted. Think about the impact of no Penn State football Saturdays in this region. The impact will be enormous on the economy. I’m sure at some point we are going to see those unfortunate numbers revealed and they won’t be pretty.

What I want to weigh in on a little more, though, is what I understand better: high school athletics.

The economic impact of no sports at the high school level would not be major. In fact, most school districts would likely see big savings. However, the savings would only be in upfront dollars.

What we would likely see is many problems associated with an absence of sports in terms of what really matters: the student-athletes. Make no mistake, the absence of sports and the constant threat and reality of a loss of upcoming seasons is taking a toll on student-athletes.

Some are even becoming depressed. Sports play a major part in the lives of many youngsters. Many high school athletes have worked very hard to get to the high school level to have the opportunity to play varsity sports.

To have that taken away or potentially taken away is a hard pill for many to swallow. Like it or not, the absence of sports at the high school level can have major consequences.

While it may be hard for some naysayers to accept, some kids come to school and pass classes only because they want to play a sport. Take the sport away and school absenteeism is likely to go higher.

Some may come to school, yet fail because they have nothing being held over their head forcing them to do well.

Some kids need sports as an outlet from their home life. It is the one thing that they look to for enjoyment. For others, it is perhaps one of the only ways that they may find college a possibility.

For some, it may be a final opportunity to impress a college coach who will offer them a roster spot at the collegiate level. We must keep in mind, too, that the seasons that are lost cannot be returned. With that comes the loss of many wonderful memories and great educational opportunities.

The absence of sports goes even beyond the athletes. It will adversely affect the overall culture of many schools.

No football Fridays, no student sections, no homecoming celebrations, no spirit weeks, no rivalry games. Little doubt, the loss of these will lead to a very uneventful and boring school experience.

Kids will have nothing to look forward to but going to school and going home. If they do not have events to attend, they will be off doing other things in their expanded free time. Something tells me that could be a bad thing for many.

The absence of sports and talk of it affects parents too. Many parents have spent countless hours and dollars helping their kid become a high school athlete. They have looked forward with great excitement to the day that their kid would be playing in their school’s biggest games.

But now, they sit and they wonder and they worry. Will their kid ever get that chance? So too is the issue of if there are games being played will they get to see their child play? To me, for that not to occur would be not only unsafe but also morally wrong. At worst, if the games are played, each participant should be given two tickets for each contest to be used by family.

Most assuredly, I completely understand that there will be those who feel that these thoughts on sports are irresponsible given the existence of COVID-19. Believe me, I’m OK with that. At the same time, I will be emphatic that I’m in no way saying that the virus is a non-issue.

It’s obviously very serious.

But, what I’m contending is that what can also be very serious are the negative impacts of the virus on the sports world and particularly the student-athletes who so badly want to play. Many will play on travel teams if not permitted to do so for their high schools. That in itself poses some potentially serious issues.

It is indeed a situation where the pros and cons must be weighed.

My suggestion is to play the games with as many safety measures in place as possible. If a student-athlete with their parent’s permission chooses to play, fine. If they choose otherwise, that is their choice too.

The whole situation has become so politically charged that perhaps choice is the best solution. After all, isn’t free choice a basic fundamental that we value in America?

I wish this situation had an easy answer. I wish for a lot of things. More importantly though, I pray that whatever decisions are ultimately made that all will be safe, experiences will be realized and memories will be made.

I pray for the days of normalcy. Whatever that may be.


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