It seems least NHL could do is make sure tests are conclusive before allowing players to hit ice.Illustration: Getty Images
When we look back on this point in time years down the road, and really know the full effects of charging ahead with sports through a pandemic, there’s a chance we’ll wonder how we could have been so reckless. There’s also a chance nothing may come of it. We don’t know. But using the fact that we don’t know what lies ahead as clearance to plow on with the things we want but don’t need is what can be the most frustrating thing about it. And perhaps the most dangerous.
Case in point is what happened last night in Vegas, in an NHL game between the Ducks and Golden Knights. It doesn’t really matter that it was the NHL, because we’ve seen it just about everywhere. Tomáš Nosek of Vegas was pulled in the middle of the game because he returned a positive test during it. But why was he out there in the first place? Why was waiting for a test result an ok to play?
If a test was unreturned, how could he have been clear to play? He was with his teammates on the bench, playing against opponents who have signed up to play a game against players who only return negative tests. That was the deal. That the league and teams would do their best to keep each other safe. We know, even if the NHL won’t admit it, that the virus has jumped from team to team and caused major delays in the season. By any logical standard, not having any result to a test should disqualify a player from playing until the result is in.
But every league has used a blank result to sanction going ahead. We saw it with Justin Turner in the World Series. It was known he had a test out awaiting results, and yet he was allowed to play because of it until it came back positive in the middle of Game 6. Kevin Durant went through this not all that long ago. Waiting for a result, or not having known facts, has been a permission slip for players, games, and leagues to go ahead. It seems almost childish. Like when you explain to your mother why something’s broken in the house by saying she didn’t explicitly say you couldn’t play football in the house. It’s a juvenile technicality.
The overarching theme of sports returning to play has been that, although we know a smattering of players will suffer immediate damage that will last long term, most will have the virus pass through them without any symptoms. And the long-term effects aren’t known. We don’t have answers for what the overall toll will be five years down the line, or ten, or longer. And that has been the green light. We don’t know, it’s all dark, so just keep moving forward, because there might not be anything lurking in the blackness. And if it turns out a large swath of players do have long-term effects five years down the road, the answer will be the same. “Well, we didn’t know.”
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But not knowing should be a brake, not the gas. If it acted as a brake, everyone would be safe. Sure, maybe we would learn in the future that there wouldn’t have been massive harm, but the answer could have been the same again. “Well, we didn’t know.” Being sure is not a bad thing.
And yet, being unsure has been a license to chase TV dollars for every league. Don’t have a test result back yet? Well, we don’t know that’s it’s totally unsafe, so let’s keep going. But both the Knights and Ducks, and the family members around them, were put in danger last night. And that’s because not having an answer has been a license to do as one, or a league, pleases.
Using “not knowing” as a justification for being safe and careful wouldn’t come with regrets. This path will almost certainly will.
Anyway, let’s end with Devin Booker — in the Suns win over the Bucks last night — avenging Khris Middleton’s turning him into paste on Feb. 2.
First, the Groundhog Day Massacre:
And last night, Devin’s retort, essentially FTW with the ensuing free throw:
Psst, Khris … he’s over here, bud.