For a period on the sports calendar that is typically sleepy — ahead of the start of training camps for pro and (formerly) amateur football — times are tense.
Covid-19 again is the source, and human foolishness is mostly the driver. Just when we thought it was safe to drop the mask . . .
The largest stage, the opening this week of the Summer Olympics, already set back a year, and now devoid of spectators, as well as unwanted by a majority of Japan’s citizens, remains in trouble.
At a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo, the man at the top of the organizing committee refused to rule out a cancellation of the Games even after many of athletes and officials have arrived. Toyota has dropped all TV ads, and other companies are following suit.
“We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” Toshiro Muto told a news conference after being asked if the Games could still be canceled. “At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”
Since July 1, organizers said 67 cases of infection have been reported among Tier 1 credentialed personnel. It is a tiny percentage, but indicates that whatever “bubble” qualities the organizers sought have been popped.
Even though the arriving parties are almost universally vaccinated, two athletes with local ties didn’t make it. The Storm’s Katie Lou Samuelson, in the 3-on-3 women’s hoops competition, and Zach LaVine, the Chicago Bulls guard from Bothell High School, on the U.S. men’s basketball team, are in the covid protocol.
Samuelson will not play. LaVine may be able to join later the team that has already lost Wizards star Bradley Beal and Pistons forward Jerami Grant to covid. (Update Wednesday: LaVine cleared the covid protocol and will join Team USA.)
On a smaller stage, but of perhaps greater concern to Seattle sports fans, the Mariners lost OF Jake Fraley to the protocol Sunday, their second covid episode this season. Their first episode, May 21-23 in San Diego, temporarily knocked out four relief pitchers and contributed to a three-game sweep by the Padres by a combined score of 31-7.
So forgive Scott Servais if he’s a little cranky when he has to work around another covid problem that didn’t need to be.
“Initially, when our guys came back in after the All-Star break they had to get tested,” the Mariners manager said Sunday after Fraley missed games Friday and Saturday with what then were described a stomach problems. “The initial tests were negative. Yesterday, we did get a positive test. So Jake Fraley is on the COVID IL. It’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are at.
“He has symptoms. He was back at the hotel (in Anaheim) and he’s in isolation. Our training staff is staying in contact with him. He is feeling a little bit better, but I have not talked to him personally since I found out this last night.”
So far, the Mariners have skated around Fraley’s absence, winning 7-4 Sunday and 6-4 in Colorado Tuesday (box). But if I were Servais, I wouldn’t talk to Fraley either.
The Mariners are unexpectedly competitive, and Fraley, 26, has been a solid contributor (.237/.409/.439, seven homers, 23 RBI, seven stolen bases and an amazing 33 walks). To remove himself voluntarily from the action — Servais never said Fraley was unvaccinated, so I’ll take a wild guess that’s the case — is an aggravation when all hands are needed to maintain the fragile success.
Seattle is 20-9 (.679) since June 13, the best winning percentage in the majors in that time, just ahead of Houston and San Francisco. But Fraley must sit out the full quarantine, and likely comes back diminished from the layoff.
No other Mariners are in the protocol, but several remain unvaccinated. Seattle is one of seven teams in MLB that have yet to reach the 85 percent vaccination threshold that permits relaxation of some of the nuisances, like regular testing.
The Olympics, along with all North American pro sports leagues, have not mandated vaccinations. They have tried every manner of persuasion to convince the reluctant (hey, even Sean Hannity of Fox News, the purveyor of bulk-rate mendacity, said he supports the science and now recommends vaccinations). But there’s no benchings to be dealt when the point of the exercise is to play all healthy athletes.
The Yankees postponed a game Friday because of six positive tests, including Aaron Judge. The Phillies may have a larger problem. A column in the Philadelphia Inquirer said about half the 26-player roster had refused vaccination, leaving management “terrified and exasperated.”
The Seahawks and NFL will find out in a couple of weeks whether the clubs’ vaccination campaigns have reached 85 percent. The CDC said this week that that 48.6 percent of all Americans over age 12 have had two doses. In King County, it’s more than 70 percent.
Eager as most people are for normalcy to prevail, a minority of anti-vaxxers are stalling its return, jeopardizing each other’s health and, in sports, compromising relationships and seasons.
“I think we all see what’s going on around our country,” Servais said. “There’s been a spike in the COVID cases and it is concerning. We’re not out of the woods. It’s one of the reasons it’s so important, certainly in my opinion, for people to get vaccinated.”
When teams playing well build to a dramatic climax, the tension makes for great theater. But tension over what should be common sense is beginning to ruin the show.