Like so many other Americans, we were green with envy as we watched football fans swarming the streets of Tampa Bay after the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, and again when they clogged the parade route during the team’s victory flotilla a few days later.
We, too, wanted to yell and sing and chant and not wear masks and ignore social distancing in the face of a viral pandemic that has killed almost 2.5 million people worldwide and more than 500,000 in the U.S.
It turns out we can do that in the coming months. Here are just some of the opportunities for us to join the fun that we sat and stewed about during the Super Bowl.
Root, root, root for the home teams in New York. In mid-February, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced that concert and sports venues that hold more than 10,000 people could reopen to fans in New York state as long as they limited occupancy to 10% capacity and implemented a roster of protocols. The Brooklyn Nets have started allowing fans at Barclays Center, but those fans may want to reconsider courtside seats, considering that earlier this month Kevin Durant was pulled from a game — in the second half — and forced to quarantine because of close contact with a person with Covid-19. Fans may also want to purchase ticket insurance, since 30 NBA games have been postponed this season due to Covid-19.
Hop a midnight train to the NBA All-Star Game. LeBron James called the decision to hold the March 7 event, usually a three-day affair that’s being compressed into a single day, a “slap in the face” to players, who thought the event wouldn’t take place this season. (He may have been recalling that half of the Washington Wizards tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in January.)
James, who led All-Star voting, may also be overlooking the fact that Turner Sports has an enormous amount of advertising revenue on the line. Although Sacramento King De’Aaron Fox called mounting the game “stupid,” he pragmatically acknowledged that “money makes the world go ’round.” The mayor of Atlanta, the host city, wants no partying. Strip clubs no doubt see it differently.
March to the madness in Indianapolis. After losing more than half a billion dollars when last year’s NCAA basketball tournament was canceled, pulling off the men’s basketball championship has become an “existential issue” for the NCAA. The association is determined that the tournament will take place from March 18 through April 5 with significant Covid-19 protocols for players and fans, and all rounds to be played in and around Indianapolis to create some sort of spread-out bubble. Some teams that expect to be shoo-ins on Selection Sunday may forgo conference tourneys to maintain players’ health for the Big Dance, fans be damned. The tournament venues will allow attendees at 25% capacity — that’s 17,500 people in the main one, Lucas Oil Stadium — but no word on whether Indianapolis itself will be locking down to prevent the kinds of festivities that took place before and after the Super Bowl or the bacchanal that unfolded in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, after Carolina beat Duke on Feb. 6.
Saddle up for the Kentucky Derby. Paid spectators weren’t allowed at last year’s Run for the Roses, which happened in September instead of on the first Saturday in May. This year’s race, on May 1, will probably see a maximum of 50% of reserved seats sold — Churchill Downs holds 165,000 people — with decisions about general admission to be made later as news about Covid-19 unfolds. If you’re feeling confident about your intimate bubbles, premium boxes for up to eight people are available for $3,800. Those concerned about contamination from cheering fans in adjoining boxes can gather 24 or more of their most “careful” family and friends in a private suite for $120,000.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The green flag at the Indy 500 is set to drop on schedule this year, with no special precautions noted on the event website. Hoping to be at the largest sporting venue in the world on May 30? Even if capacity is restricted to 50%, as it was last year, you’ll still get to celebrate with more than 100,000 revelers. We just missed the Daytona 500, on Feb. 14, where capacity restrictions meant only 30,000 race lovers could attend. Photos show diehards packed tightly in the stands, maskless. As one fan said, “After going to this track, the next best place is heaven.” Drop us a postcard.
Sport your domes and cuts at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We didn’t get to join half a million bikers in Sturgis last year, but we’ve set our sights on doing that this year from Aug. 6 to 15, though we’ve crossed our fingers that the country, or at least South Dakota, will have Covid-19 well in hand. Last year’s rally was associated with 260,000 cases of Covid-19 — and 20% of all U.S. cases in August.
Most of these sporting events, and the cities hosting them, claim to take the coronavirus threat seriously. If so, they would do well to follow New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell’s lead when she imposed restrictions on Mardi Gras celebrations. To show she meant business, she closed bars across the city; banned sales of to-go drinks citywide and package liquor sales in the French Quarter; and severely restricted access to the French Quarter.
Although case numbers have been going down across the U.S. and vaccination rates are up, concern about the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in Britain, and others intensifies daily. The new strain has been found in a majority of U.S. states and is believed to be deadlier than originally thought. Less than a week after the Super Bowl, nearly 350 cases caused by the variant were identified in Florida — the highest number of any state in the U.S.
Speaking of which, Spring Break is here: time to ditch that mask, grab a margarita, and head for the Sunshine State.
Lisa Kearns is a senior researcher in the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Arthur L. Caplan is the division’s founding director.