Pro football just concluded its first week of play with some really fine games, and no major incidents that we know of
And anything that signals turning the corner on COVID-19, or not, is plausibly going to be a deciding factor for at least some voters come Election Day. And playing pro football again is potentially a very powerful symbol. And Trump’s set himself up as the “rounding the turn” guy.
Any major calamity is going to have an iconic moment when things started getting back to normal. We always think of the first New York Mets game after 9/11.
And we have to admit, the first time since March we’ve been willing to entertain the idea that the toll COVID-19 is exacting from this nation might be ebbing a little is when we watched some of the NFL football games this weekend. Still remembering other nations haven’t had to pay such a price, so U.S. leadership, or lack thereof, is squarely responsible.
Still, it was good football. It was real football. Even in the stadiums that smartly did not allow fans, to a TV viewer, little was lost. And those that did let fans in: are they crazy? Little was different. Except maybe announcers insisting on keeping a running tally of who took a knee for the National Anthem on each team, and who didn’t. (Something Trump continues slamming: “Tell them to ‘protest’ some other time”) As New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick put it, players are very used to performing at a high level of professionalism in front of zero fans: it’s called practice.
Yes, basketball and hockey leagues have been playing, and there have been some spectacular games, even without any fans. But they more or less only came back for playoffs and to crown a champion. Nothing wrong with that, but a limited goal. Which was probably very smart because they’ve done it well. The National Hockey League took the additional step of moving all its games to Canada, where COVID-19 infection rates are much lower.
Baseball’s around too. A shortened season. But it’s been more bumpy, even though it’s been handled relatively well. Several games having to be cancelled or moved after players and staff tested positive on several teams. And at least one afflicted player who showed up testing positive hasn’t been able to return to the game because of heart complications that seem to be related to the virus.
So pro football’s the real test. And of course, there’s a huge question mark. Will the league be able to pull off the full season that’s planned, in a game that involves nearly a couple of dozen helmeted, but unmasked players slamming against each other at full speed on every play?
No one can know. What we do know is there’s no evidence the pandemic in the U.S. is anywhere near over. And even though the number of people dying in the U.S. has gone down a little recently, it’s still high compared with other counties. And test positivity rates in about 1/5 of all states is are currently going up. While that won’t necessarily translate into additional huge increases in death, especially if handled well by public health officials, there’s certainly more of a chance of that than if the numbers were going the other way.
Nor is there yet an overall, centralized strategic effort to address COVID-19, except racing to find a vaccine. Although at the same time, locally, politicians and just everyday people doing the best they can have figured out some best practices. Problem is, there’s no consistency still as you move around the country.
So why do we say the NFL season kicking in potentially benefits Trump?
Simple. People are more inclined to forget the past if they have something to look forward to. Also, everybody’s got very short attention spans these days.
No way the NFL getting a few games successfully under their belt will actually persuade us one way or another about voting for Trump. But we can absolutely see how anything in America right now that seems at all “back to normal” might help him momentum-wise.
We really don’t think this idea is far fetched: in fact, we remember several serious political commentators commenting (perhaps not so seriously) that Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards might’ve won re-election last year despite a massive push by Trump to pull his Republican challenger over the finish line, at least in part because Louisiana State University beat its arch-rival Alabama just a few days before the election. LSU went on to win the College Football Championships. And you know what? Even though that bit of analysis might’ve been a bit tongue-in-cheek, it might’ve also been a lot right. Because voters in Louisiana were feeling really good after the LSU victory. Like everything about the state was on the right track. So why even think about making a change?
Of course, COVID-19, nor anything that dramatic or disastrous was in the picture at that point. But in a way, that makes the NFL’s so far successful return that much more poignant.
This all seems to be something Trump’s well aware of and is a theme he has deliberately embraced: pointing to evidence of whatever he can find that America’s turning a bend, and discrediting everything else. The guy that Trump handpicked to head the Health Department’s public relations effort (see our previous column: “The ‘Best People’: Lunatics And Lemmings”) alleged over the weekend that left wing hit squads were getting ready to get him after myriad reports last week that he was pressing CDC scientists to produce results that better hewed to Trump’s visions. Really, he did.
And the President’s aggressive schedule of pointedly un-socially distant rallies of late are also a pretty blatant attempt to underscore the “rounding the turn” theme. Coupled with a bet, really, that these rallies do not become super-spreader events, and that generally COVID-19 does not come roaring back, at least not before Election Day.
Thing is, the President can’t have any idea of whether he can pull that off. So it’s a risk. Not only for him, but for the lives of the people who are coming to his rallies and participating in his little game. Really, a game of Russian Roulette.
Trump’s many attempts thus far to bend COVID-19 to his will have not succeeded. On the other hand, Trump really does seem to have uncanny good luck.
And maybe also, whether there’s football every Sunday plays into that.
Look, Trump isn’t going to win on the return of football alone. But we’ve also been surprised in recent days how even some liberal suburban parents we know are starting to soften up to his message of threats to their way of life. So mix together a bunch of the seemingly random ingredients Trump keeps throwing into his brew, and we really won’t be surprised to see Trump peeling at least a few people off.
Another one of those things that Trump’s been repeating for a while, but we’ve noticed is starting to gain more traction, is that depression and suicide resulting from Coronavirus mitigation might be turning into as big a problem as the disease itself. We only bring this up now because the announcer in the Sunday night NFL game did too.
Sadly, more than 100 people a day take their own lives in this country. And suicide was already at a record high even before the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Roll Call, there has been a spike since. It’s hard to say by how much, although in Fresno, California it’s 70% higher than normal. Which would be around 200 people a day if those percentages held nationally. The Coronavirus has taken an average of 1000 Americans a day since mid-March, based on the CDC’s own numbers. So mental health and suicide is absolutely a growing problem right now that needs to be addressed. But struggling with those problems shouldn’t be used as an attempt to minimize the plight of the many, many more Americans still dying from the disease itself.
So how does Joe Biden stay ahead? Stay active. Actively parry attacks where the President tries to flip things and make Biden look like the candidate of chaos, not Trump. Counter with a true, not just symbolic vision of a return to some kind of normalcy, including common sense proposals on things like pandemics and jobs. And even like the environment, which has always been a political non-starter, but with wildfires and a wild hurricane season already, might resonate for once with voters. Especially since the President won’t hear that at all.