'New normal will likely be very different when sports resume

  • White Sox fans watch the Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays at Guaranteed Rate Field in 2018. Will empty stadiums be the "new normal" when sports return?

    White Sox fans watch the Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays at Guaranteed Rate Field in 2018. Will empty stadiums be the "new normal" when sports return? DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

 
 
Updated 5/25/2020 5:30 PM

Standing six feet apart, fans are waiting patiently to enter the stadium.

They are covered in face masks and gloves, which are required for entrance. Some even have protective eyewear.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Once at the front of the line, fans go through the metal detector as usual. Then they were wanded. Across their foreheads. For their temperatures.

Some games, they are handed the giveaway of the day, maybe a T-shirt or a collector's poster.

But before every game, they are handed a complimentary travel-sized container of hand sanitizer, as well as a small package of cleansing disinfectant wipes.

Could this be what it will be like to attend a sporting event in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic? Will there be a protocol for protecting ourselves from big crowds and strangers and germs? Will the protocol be over-the-top? Will it not be enough?

Will attending a sporting event ever be what it was, or will we feel like we are in some kind of scary, surreal alternate universe?

Will some fans even want to come back at all? Will they want to be around large crowds? Will they feel comfortable and at ease, even with a rigid safety protocol?

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"That's a very good question. The impact on the sports world has already been quite vast with COVID-19, but at the end of the day, we want to prevent anything like this from ever happening again," said Dr. Brendon Ross of the University of Chicago Medical Center and the team physician for the Chicago Sky. "At this point, from a safety standpoint, I don't think there is anything too ridiculous for teams and arenas to entertain to protect fans and athletes and everyone at the arena."

Indeed, it could get even weirder at games in the near future.

Once inside the arena, fans find their seats, but are positioned in every fourth seat, to maintain social distancing. Some families take up an entire row.

Meanwhile, the players are on the court warming up as usual. But they are wearing masks too. And gloves ... special gloves that allow coverage and protection, but also mobility and grip.

Before being allowed to take the floor, the players are required in the locker room to take a temperature test and a COVID-19 test to prove that they are healthy and negative. Same for coaches. And for referees, who now, as part of their regular duties, are charged with wiping down the ball with cleansing disinfectant wipes during every timeout.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For the players, social distancing isn't possible during the game, of course. Close physical contact is part of many sports.

But the players are required to eliminate unnecessary contact such as high-fives, hugs, chest bumps, fist bumps and the piling of hands on top of each other in the huddles.

There are absolutely no high-fives with fans on the way to the locker room at halftime, or after games. There are also no postgame autograph lines. And no photos with fans.

Sometimes the players forget the rules.

But they are quickly reminded by the referees, and game personnel.

Security is constantly reminding fans, too. In fact, no alcohol is served in an effort to help fans better remember the new rules, which include them leaving their masks and gloves on at all times.

And since masks must be worn at all times, that means no food will be served either.

"When these leagues restart, there will be hourly conversations with leaders around the world about making sure all the bases are covered," Ross said. "This virus is certainly one of the more virulent strains from a morbidity and infectiousness standpoint. The impact of this is something we haven't seen, generationally speaking.

"So to go too far to maintain health and safety is something we shouldn't worry about."

The game has ended. Fans cheer, they clap, but they are more calculated and more controlled. There is an eerie calm that is unusual in the wake of a win.

Fans are required to stay in their seats until they are waved out row by row by the ushers, to ensure social distancing as they exit.

Social distancing continues into the parking lots and garages.

The empty stadium is then not only cleaned of garbage and debris, as usual, it is wiped down seat by seat with disinfectant.

It seems like too much.

It seems crazy.

But it might just be the kind of crazy we sports fans will need to put up with in order to feel a little more normal and experience the sports we love ... until a vaccine restores complete order.

That day cannot come soon enough.

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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