Trump can say what he wants, but the Gavin Newsoms of the country will determine when the NFL returns


President Donald Trump told commissioners of major American sports organizations Saturday that he expects their games, complete with fans in the stands, to return by August or September. That would include, obviously, an on-time start to the NFL season on Sept. 10.

Later, at a news conference, Trump was a little less specific, but no less aspirational.

“I can’t tell you a date, but I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later,” he said.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose state is home to 40 million people and three NFL franchises, five MLB franchises, four in the NBA and three apiece in the NHL and MLS, was far less confident, particularly with fans in attendance.

“I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” Newsom said.

Who is correct?

Who knows?

And there’s the rub as the coronavirus pandemic churns on. There are plenty of more important issues to deal with — flattening curves, getting personal protective equipment to health professionals, pushing for vaccines and cures.

Getting the economy back is a consideration as well, and the sports and entertainment industry is worth billions. There is also the morale-boosting and distraction-creating benefits of an isolated, virus-weary public having games in which to lose themselves.

Ideally, Trump’s prediction turns out correct. If major professional sports return by summer and the NFL kicks off on time, then it suggests major gains were made in the containment and treatment of COVID-19. There shouldn’t be anyone opposed to a potential return to business as usual in the United States.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom was less confident than president Donald Trump about the NFL going on as scheduled this fall. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom was less confident than president Donald Trump about the NFL going on as scheduled this fall. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

“We are not going to have to have separation for the rest of our time on this planet,” Trump said. “We need it for this period of time, but eventually people will be able to occupy their seats in arenas next to each other.”

Undoubtedly. there will be full stadiums (and concert venues, restaurants, school rooms and so on) at some point during the “rest of our time on this planet.”

How about before Week 1?

That’s where Newsom, and governors like him who are focused on specific and logistical issues, come in.

“I’m not here to second-guess anybody,” Newsom said on Saturday, when told of Trump’s remarks. “But I am here to say this: Our decision on that basis, at least here in the state of California, will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts, will be determined by our capacity to meet this moment, bend the curve and have the appropriate community surveillance and testing to confidently determine whether or not that’s appropriate.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on the immediate,” Newsom continued. “But that is not something I anticipate happening in the next few months.”

Newsom was talking specifically about fans in the stadium. Could they play games with no one there? Maybe. That is, potentially, a lower threshold to clear. It would still require significant strides being made.

Even if the NFL returned, how many people would even attend a game and thus risk contracting a virus until there is a proven vaccine? Fan attendance might be a moot point anyway. (Trump suggested potential tax write-offs on purchases of tickets and even in-stadium popcorn, but it’s more likely an individual rather than economic decision.)

In the end this is going to be a local determination. That’s tough for the NFL, which has franchises in 23 states (and 30 cities) and unlike, perhaps, the NBA, couldn’t just bring the entire league to one central site.

Will the Rams and Chargers play games as scheduled at SoFi Stadium this fall? We'll see. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
Will the Rams and Chargers play games as scheduled at SoFi Stadium this fall? We'll see. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

As such, the thinking of people like Newsom is more pertinent than Trump’s. Conceivably one city, and the opinion of one local health expert, could hold everything up. There are differing opinions and variables out there, which is why shelter-in-place orders currently vary greatly from one community to the next.

In the NFL’s case, can one location cause all the dominoes to fall? What if a certain city has an outbreak even after the rest of the country has cleared certain parameters? How would this even work?

The coronavirus, after all, doesn’t care much about your NFL training camp start dates.

Newsom hasn’t expressed opposition to the NFL, or any professional sports, returning. It’s just a matter of doing it smartly and safely, he says. Besides, if the challenges of today (like testing shortfalls) aren’t solved, then the San Francisco 49ers’ season doesn’t stand a chance in a few months.

First things first.

Even the most sports-desperate fan would have to acknowledge that. This is the wait-and-see stage.

“One has to be careful not to overpromise,” Newsom said.

That’s Newsom’s style, working in the granular. Trump’s is different, arguably trying to inspire solutions and momentum with bold, if vague, proclamations.

It’s the Newsoms of the country who are going to determine this, though. In the meantime, we all wait, hoping for the same thing — the return, as safely as possible, to normalcy.

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