South Dakota, not sports, offers the best escape from the pandemic | Adams

John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

Sports often are valued for the escape they offer. But the coronavirus pandemic has slammed that escape hatch shut.

Nonetheless, I’ve tried to do my part, hacking out sports-related columns in hopes of transporting my readers from the grim reality of a deadly virus. My noble quest hasn’t been met with universal approval.

One reader shredded my efforts in an email, which exceeded the usual level of harshness and shrillness that my columns can provoke.

Betty wrote: “Can we once act like adults and act like we have a pandemic in this country.” She followed her lead with three question marks, just to make sure I grasped the seriousness of her message.

She continued: “Please stop acting like UT football is the most important thing in the city or the country for that matter. It’s disgusting! I am sick of hearing about it. Grow up! People are dying! Fill your space with asking people to do the right thing. Wear masks, wash your hands, practice social distancing and stay home.

“What a shame the priorities are so screwed up!”

Other columnists might have dismissed the email has the work of someone who had become unhinged under the relentless pressure of a pandemic that won’t go away. But as regular readers of this column know, I cherish outside input.

Having read and reread Betty’s criticism, I concluded that she made valid points. So, I would like to encourage you to wear masks, wash your hands, practice social distancing, stay home and stay alive.

Better yet, go to South Dakota.

I recently spent a week in Spearfish, S.D. I might as well have gone to another planet.

When I asked my hotel clerk about how bad the pandemic had been in his corner of the world, his look said, “What pandemic?”

“We haven’t had a reported case in Lawrence County,” he added.

“Too good to be true,” I thought. Sure enough, after a little research I determined that the county had reported 19 cases, which reassured me that I had picked my vacation destination wisely. You can get that many cases in a Florida bar.

But if you can’t go to South Dakota, good luck relying on sports for an escape. The coronavirus pandemic won’t be your only obstacle.

Sports have never been so far removed from fantasy land. The gap between sports participants and fans has never been greater.

Professional and college athletes are speaking out against racism and social injustice. They are protesting and marching. They’re becoming active in the Black Lives Matter movement. And many of them are more apt to take a knee than stand when the National Anthem is played.

George Floyd’s death was a catalyst for the protests, some of which morphed into rioting and looting. The Minneapolis Black man died in police custody after being arrested. Video showed policeman Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, taking his breath and then his life.

Floyd died in late May, but there have been other incidents between Black people and police that have sparked protests and riots in cities throughout the country.

Black and white athletes have continued to voice their opinions on racial issues. So have coaches.

Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill said last month that he “won’t represent Mississippi unless the flag is changed.” The state flag features a Confederate emblem.

Mississippi has since decided to adopt a new flag.

Athletes have as much right as anyone to freedom of speech. However, that doesn’t mean fans want to hear their speech.

For fans, sports aren’t about politics or social causes. Sports are about entertainment for which fans are willing to invest big bucks.  

In return, they expect a brief break from the troublesome reality of a pandemic that began in the spring, carried into the summer and now threatens our fall sports calendar.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or john.adams@knoxnews.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.