April 22, 2020 will go down as a date which will live in infamy in Montana.
That date will forever be known as the day that we learned that it is unsafe for high school students to run at track meets, play softball games and compete in tennis and golf tournaments during the coronavirus epidemic.
At the same time, we learned that is perfectly OK for adults to gather in bars to drink alcohol.
At its height, Mad Magazine would have never envisioned such an absurd development. Not even the best minds at The Onion could have written such a scenario.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced that state has entered phase one of returning to normalcy following last month’s stay-at-home order. That will allow some businesses, including bars, to reopen.
Of course, the governor is not reckless. The bars will have to close at 11:30 p.m. because, as we all know, the coronavirus does not come out until after midnight. The virus is like a Gremlin.
Less than an hour after Bullock’s announcement, the Montana High School Association said that it has canceled the 2020 spring sports season because of ongoing concerns from the coronavirus.
The juxtaposition of those announcements would make us all laugh if we were not all crying so hard.
Clearly, we need to get the bars up and running again. We need the employees to go back to work, and, after a month of quarantine, a lot of people really need a drink.
I completely sympathize with that. During my 20s and early 30s, I spent enough money at Maloney’s, the Vu Villa, the Club 13 and the Scoop to pay for Medicare for all.
We also need our sports. Without sporting events to watch in person or on television, a lot of us are going to go crazy.
A spring without track, softball, golf and tennis is no spring at all. If you throw in the fact that we are missing out on the best part of the baseball season — the only time of year that the Seattle Mariners are in the pennant race — and we have the makings for millions and millions of mental breakdowns.
However, we also need to breathe. We need our grandparents and parents to survive. We need our children and adults with asthma and other “underlying health conditions” to live on.
Since the governor’s order came at a time when local health officials are warning that more cases of the coronavirus are sure to come, it is hard not to feel a little uneasy with the reopening of the bars.
It is also hard to not feel uneasy about the prospects of businesses going even more days with their doors locked.
So, we can only hope that the governor is making the right decision. Hopefully that decision is based more on scientific facts than it is on public and economic pressure.
A day after the governor announced the relaxed coronavirus orders, the Montana East-West Shrine Game was canceled because of pandemic. The Shriners made their decision based on the latest recommendations form the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
That cannot make any of us feel better about the situation. The sporting world has been, after all, our nation’s voice of reason when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus.
Remember, the country never really paid attention to the pandemic until the NBA suspended its season. Then, in the blink of an eye, it got real.
When the NCAA canceled March Madness, we realized things have really hit the fan.
The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball all ceased operations and locked down their training facilities before the governor of any state issued a stay-at-home order.
That fact should not make any of us feel better about our leaders.
Colleges canceling spring sports got our collective attention when stories about severe shortages of protective and live-saving equipment could not.
Calling off sports comes at a great price, too.
Sure, we cannot get too worked up about the millionaires and billionaires losing money in the professional ranks. We should, however, fret about college sports.
If the college football season is not held this year — and the chances of that not happening are going up every day — colleges and athletic programs will be devastated.
Football is the money maker for most college athletic programs. Without football, we will see the loss of sports programs, including some football programs.
That will cost young student-athletes countless opportunities at the collegiate ranks. It could also cost tremendous opportunities for students who are not athletes.
If college football goes away, some colleges will go away.
Kent Paulson, the commissioner of the Frontier Conference, pointed out that every school in his conference lost out on their spring fundraisers. He said losing out on the football season would be nothing short of devastating.
“The stark reality is there could be schools in the league, and in the NAIA, that could be in trouble,” Paulson said. “They were in trouble before the coronavirus. This could be the death nail.”
Paulson speaks of the NAIA, because that is the world he lives in. He could just as easily be speaking about NCAA schools, because many of them are in just as much danger of going away.
Still, you do not see college sports ready to jump the gun when it comes to returning from this pandemic. Like with the MHSA and the Shrine Game, colleges are looking at the statistics and listening to doctors.
Even though they stand to lose millions, they are not caving to political and economic pressure.
“At the end of the day, student-athletes are student-athletes and coaches are coaches,” Paulson said. “We have to make sure they are safe.”
MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman said his organization simply could not justify holding a track meet where fans, including many elderly fans, sit shoulder-to-shoulder to cheer on the action.
He could not live with the outbreak of COVID-19 — and potential deaths — that would be possible from holding such events, big and small. When it came time to chose between a sporting event and possible deaths, the MHSA made the only choice it possibly could.
The decision to reopen bars kind of feels like it might be a vote for death.
Hopefully the bars in Montana can and will operate in a responsible fashion when they reopen.
It does, however, seem almost impossible to keep a safe “social distance” in a bar, where most of us are not typically known for exhibiting our most responsible behavior.
Whether it is a fight or a bro hug, people tend to embrace each other in bars.
Of course, those things break out at all times of day and night in any bar, so we should all agree that the 11:30 p.m. closure makes no sense at all.
If we are going to allow bars to reopen and subject the rest of society with unnecessary risk, we might as well let them stay open until the usual closing time.
As long as the bartenders do not feed their patrons after midnight, there should not be any problems at all.
— Bill Foley, who was anti-bro hug even before the pandemic, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He plans to write more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.