Coronavirus in Sports: The UFC's Defiance, Schedule Changes and More Updates

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause the cancellations and postponements of sporting events around the world, SI staff members will be sharing periodic updates on the impact, from smaller stories or social media moments that may have gotten lost in the news cycle, to insider info on bigger headlines. Check back each day for dispatches and conversations from SI writers and editors.

Where are we today?

Jon Wertheim: Another news cycle, another batch of generally grim sports news. The NFL Draft is still on for April 23 in Las Vegas; but like last night’s Democratic debate, it will not be open to the public. MLB has pushed back Opening Day until mid-May. The NBA is anticipating a best-case scenario of resuming the season in late June. (This comes as the CDC recommends no gatherings with more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.) I spoke with one team executive who says most of his time is being spent reading the fine print of insurance contracts. If an entire season is canceled, how much of the losses will be covered by the policies? That’s where we are….

What stories—sports or otherwise—might have slipped through the cracks amidst COVID-19?

JW: The whole concept of “What’s a news story?” has, of course, been redefined. I spoke to someone over the weekend who didn’t realize Harvey Weinstein would, pending appeal, be spending the rest of his life in prison. In our Old World—and let’s pause here to acknowledge that COVID-19 is already, clearly, one of the defining events that, like 9/11, will divide an era into pre- and post- periods—the sentencing of Harvey Weinstein would have been a multi-news-cycle item. Instead, even this was lost amid coronavirus dispatches.

As for sports, the NFL CBA and the likelihood of a 17th game would be the obvious answer. But what about Rick Pitino, exiled to Greece, getting another chance at college coaching and quietly getting the Iona job? Iona, of course, is not Louisville. But there were many who naively/idealistically thought that even in the NCAA’s world of second (and third and fourth) chances, Pitino was ineradicably tainted and would never work in college again. That news item occurs in an ordinary period and it launches a thousand hot takes. Especially, coinciding as it does, with news of this Christian Dawkins’ HBO doc.

Jamie Lisanti: After the Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos A. Gimenez was the first to announce that the Miami Open tennis tournament, and other major events scheduled to be held at the American Airlines Arena, were canceled last week, another Miami official is helping others after he tested positive for COVID-19. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is keeping a daily video journal, tracking his symptoms and experience dealing with the coronavirus.

What’s the best sports social media story you’ve seen amidst the crisis?

JW: Partial to racket sports, I’ll go with this: On lockdown in Italy, two quarantined men played a game of tennis out of their apartment windows.

JL: We were all well aware that a large majority of athletes enjoy playing video games during their down time. But now that down time has become all the time, now that schedules that used to be filled with workouts, meetings, practices and more are completely open, NBA players are occupying their time—and fulfilling their craving for competition—with video games. And they haven’t been shy about soliciting advice on social media about streams, gaming strategies and more.

Will E-sports games replace real sports match-ups for the foreseeable future?

Trae Young is learning some new skills thanks to the hiatus:

What’s the deal with the UFC?

JW: While the rest of sports has gone on leave until further notice, the UFC fights on. (Because nothing says “social distancing” like jiu-jitsu.) A card (otherwise forgettable) in Brazil last Saturday was the only show in sports. And, the UFC is hellbent on putting another show soon. “Unless there’s a total shutdown of the country where people can’t leave their houses and things like that, these fights will happen,” Dana White said. “We’re gonna move on. These guys will compete. We will find venues, and we will figure this thing out. I mean, the only thing that’s gonna stop us is a complete government shutdown where everyone is confined to their homes.”

Some of this is a contrarian streak of an outlaw league, inadvisable as it may be. The UFC got to where it is, largely by zigging when everyone else was zagging. Some of this is White sensing a business opportunity, again, inadvisable as it may be.

But over at The Athletic, Ben Fowlkes, has an explanation rooted in politics.

(And remember, Dana White not only spoke on Trump’s behalf at the 2016 GOP Convention, but attended in person the 2016 victory party in Manhattan.)

This is an awfully big bet by the UFC. The only major sports league still hellbent on holding events, there’s an opportunity. On the other hand, disregarding every public health recommendation—potentially endangering your employees; muddling the public message—doesn’t inch your product closer to the mainstream.

What is the best public service announcement of the day?

JW: Rudy Gobert has become a sort of “Sports Patient Zero” after having joked about the coronavirus and then, two days later, testing positive, which led to the suspension of NBA games. Give Gobert a lot of credit, though, for apologizing, admitting embarrassment, raising awareness and then raising funds. Here he is, thankfully, feeling better and—imagine saying this a few weeks ago—spreading the important message of hand-washing.

JL: Last week, Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife Rita Wilson had tested positive for COVID-19 while in Australia. The couple has remained positive as they recover in isolation, posting selfies, taking things “one-day-at-a-time,” and reminding people that “despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball.”

On Sunday, Hanks posted a lighthearted update on Twitter, featuring a photo of a stuffed kangaroo holding an Australian flag and his meal: Vegemite toast and a glass of water. The response from some Aussies was less cheerful, as they were quick to point out Hanks’s over-generous slather of Vegemite:

It's a lighthearted, non-coronavirus related PSA, but a PSA nonetheless: There is a code of conduct for the proper practices of Vegemite on toast.