The Miami Marlins clubhouse is crawling with the coronavirus. At least 17 players and coaches have tested positive for covid-19. The Philadelphia Phillies, their umpiring crew and stadium staff members await results after their dust-up with the infected Floridians. The New York Yankees were in lock-down before heading to Baltimore.
That’s the box score only after opening weekend. Yet Major League Baseball says it’s not planning on cutting short its already stunted season.
Meanwhile, the entire National Basketball Association has gone to Disney World.
The show must go on, apparently, because we don’t know what we’d do without it. We’re looking to sports for a grand reprise of our regular lives in a very irregular summer.
The illusion starts with a delusion: that it’s really possible to wipe away risk altogether amid a pandemic. Next come the efforts to pretend, at least for nine sweet innings or four quarters, that there’s no pandemic at all.
Some MLB broadcasts pulsate with the cheering of fake crowds. No one can really take themselves out to the ballgame these days, so they’re lifting audio from a video game instead and letting teams mimic the sound of full stadiums. The MLB warns against adding boos to the mix, which means it really is all baby sharks and rainbows.
The NBA isn’t at Disney World by accident. Disney World is the perfect place to build a bubble because it already is a bubble: colossal, contained and contrived, so separate from real life that it feels unreal enough for kids to think it’s magic.
Every practice court in the bubble, emblazoned with squad colors and logos, is literally a stage: trucked down from the cities where these teams can’t safely play and assembled for the express purpose of making business look as close to usual as possible.
There are barbers and hair-braiders and manicurists and pedicurists. The artificial society has 24-hour concierge services, but it also has the social services necessary to any community, from mental health counseling to chaplains. How else to ensure players can survive?
People usually travel to Disney World to dwell within a fantasy, by soaring on a roller coaster through a starry galaxy or hugging a large talking mouse. Nowadays, everyone’s preferred fantasy is the world as it was before the virus hit: totally, utterly normal.
We’re desperate for sports to exist today because they shouldn’t be able to exist at all amid a pandemic—and the fact that they do keeps reality at a distance.