ORLANDO, Fla. - The message at the top of UCF's football Twitter page lays it on the line bluntly and accurately:
"Want to help us go 1 and 0? Wear a mask."
That goes for everybody; not just UCF fans.
It goes for every fan base, booster club and supporter group out there. It goes for Florida and Florida State fans. It goes for Orlando Magic and Orlando City fans. It goes for football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer fans.
If you want sports to return then do YOUR part. Please, don't ruin it for everybody. Social distance as much as you can. Don't stand shoulder to shoulder with 50 other people at a local bar. And wear a damn mask when you go to Publix.
It's not that big of an inconvenience.
And this doesn't just go for sports fans; it goes for our sports teams, too; teams like the Orlando Pride, who made national news earlier this week for all the wrong reasons. Sadly, the Pride had to withdraw from the NWSL Challenge Cup because of an easily preventable COVID-19 outbreak among team members.
The Pride should be a lesson to so many of the twentysomethings out there who don't seem to realize that their behavior can profoundly impact friends, family, colleagues and teammates. The Pride's coronavirus outbreak, sources told the Sentinel, was the result of some younger players going to a bar just a few days before they were to leave for the Challenge Cup out in Utah.
Pride star Sydney Leroux, one of the older players on the team, a mother of two and the wife of Orlando City star Dom Dwyer, obviously was perturbed with some of her teammates.
"I'm heartbroken," she wrote on Twitter. "The majority of our team & staff worked our asses off to put us in the best position to play the game we love again. Not just for ourselves but for our families, friends, fans & our city. ..."
Notice how she wrote, "the majority of the team."
Translation: It only takes one infection to spread throughout an entire roster, neighborhood, city, county, state, country and planet. That's why they call it a global pandemic.
Wear a damn mask.
For me, as a lifelong sports fan and a longtime Orlandoan, this is not about politics or partisanship; it's about sports and the economy.
As a longtime Orlandoan, I don't want another personal lockdown and economic meltdown. I want Disney World up and running and filling our hotels and restaurants again. I want our massive convention center holding massive conventions instead of being an oversized COVID-19 testing site.
I don't want any more small businesses to go belly up. I don't want any more of my friends losing their jobs, going on forced furloughs or taking pay cuts.
I get angry and confused when so many of the people who claim they want the economy to open up again are the same people who won't do the simple things to keep the economy opened up again.
Wear a damn mask.
As a lifelong sports fan, I don't want to see college football season canceled and athletic programs across the country essentially go bankrupt. I want to see if the Gators can win the national championship. I want to see if UCF can once again become the bane of Paul Finebaum's existence. I want to see if new FSU coach Mike Norvell can beat Willie Taggart's record and last at least two full seasons.
And, ohmygawd, I can't wait to see if Tom Brady and Gronk can lead the Bucs - the Bucs?!!! - to the Super Bowl. And I want to see if the Magic can make a run in the playoffs and if Orlando City can finally make the playoffs.
Wear a damn mask.
Don't kid yourself, our city and our state are in the national crosshairs right now because of the recent spike of coronavirus cases. Both the NBA and MLS are scheduled to resume play at Disney's Wide World of Sports next month and, understandably, there are growing concerns from both leagues about Orlando.
ESPN has reported that, "In at least one recent call with high-level team executives, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has acknowledged the spiking (coronavirus) numbers in Florida. Team sources described the general tone of that call, including the questions asked of Silver, as tense."
The Athletic wrote an article earlier this week with the headline, "Anxiety rising in MLS amid Florida COVID-19 spike, positive player tests." The article quoted one MLS player as saying, "There's a growing fear amongst players right now. We agreed to this (resumption of play in Orlando) when the cases in Florida were low, and now that they've spiked, there's real concern on a number of levels."
Like it or not, there is this perception out there that we are once again "Flori-duh." Nationally, we are all being lumped in with the careless patrons who recently crowded into a jam-packed bar near the UCF campus where at least 28 customers and 13 employees then tested positive for the virus. The bar, the Knight's Pub, had its alcohol license revoked for essentially ignoring coronavirus guidelines.
In Boston and New York, people think Orlandoans are all like the yahoo at a local Walmart the other day who, despite a new county executive order requiring masks in public places, is seen on a viral video shoving a Walmart employee who tried to stop him from entering the store without a face covering.
Some selfish, arrogant people just don't get it. They're not even willing to take the simplest of precautions long enough to go get a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread at Walmart. They're not even courteous enough to follow the easy, uncomplicated rule of going the right way down the one-way aisle at Winn-Dixie.
This column is a call to arms to all of my fellow sports fans out there who desperately want football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer back in our lives.
Spread the word.
Tell your friends.
Scream it from the top of the Amway Center:
Wear a damn mask!
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