James M. Berklan

If you’re tempted to bypass this blog because you want to start the weekend on a brighter note, I wouldn’t blame you. But then again, weekends are a central theme to what’s going to hurt so much more in the future.

I’m afraid Monday’s announcement of possible future penalties for infection control deficiencies is going to feel like a cool shower after a walk in the desert compared to what’s ahead. I hope my suspicions are wrong about your next round of challenges.

Oh, they’re not going to directly confront you or assault you. On the contrary. The offender will be the U.S. public, and it will bypass you with more indifference than usual — along with the vulnerable, frail elders in your care. 

Ageism is going to rear its ugly head far beyond anything you’ve seen before. The stomach churning suspicions you’ve suppressed since Mark Parkinson described COVID-19 as a nearly “perfect killing machine” of the elderly months ago will lurch out of you, like the creature in “Alien.”

What, you ask, will put things totally over the edge? Pigskin pride. College football.

Yesterday, the NBA announced it would resume its season in an abbreviated format in Florida at the end of July. Major League Baseball also will come up with something, as soon as the millionaires and billionaires can agree on who gets the loose change. The NFL will too. Heck, the German professional soccer league has been playing again (to empty stadia) for a couple of weeks and the British Premier League will follow suit in about two weeks.

Pros with lots of money at stake, and the ability to cocoon adult playing squads while entertaining the masses via TV. But they’ll have nothing on college football when the Bubbas who drive it get into full gear. They’re already trying to rationalize how they can also get up and running — and blocking and tackling. Some schools, including vaunted Alabama, allowed the start of voluntary workouts on Monday and already there are reports that at least five (asymptomatic) players have been diagnosed with COVID-19 there.

Picture thousands of musclebound young adults with raging hormones and underdeveloped frontal lobes leading us to entertainment salvation. It might be uncertain whether colleges can even pull off a full semester of classes on campus. But bet the line that football will find a way to be played. And the American public will be its chief lobbyist, even as infection and death rates will surely rise in connection with it.

Granted, sports can be a great outlet for all sorts of pent up emotions and energy. But when it comes to historic pandemic conditions, it’s going to be nauseating to see the lengths some will go to, just to have the NCAA play its games this fall.

Two things will happen: COVID-19 infection rates will rise  — either among the direct participants or the fans, or both. The latter will gather on their own, even if they can’t on campus (though don’t rule out anything yet, folks). Do we need to remind how many novel coronavirus carriers are asymptomatic? The other thing is more resources will be used up — either for preventive or actual care.

Being responsible and all, the collegiate gurus will mandate frequent testing of players, coaches and other key personnel. Look how disproportionately pro athletes were tested at the onset of the pandemic, when the first few players turned up COVID-19 positive, and testing materials were much more scarce.

This added activity may or may not exhaust certain PPE supplies. Among players, it wouldn’t make sense to use it anyway, would it? What would be the point after swapping sweat and maulings for three hours on game day, and possibly more for practice?

The point is you can be sure they’re going to get all the testing and PPE they want. Instead of protecting some frontline healthcare worker or octogenarian, resources will go toward who can push the pigskin across the goal line best. And this will go on with the full-throated approval of a large section of the American public.

We’re going to yearn for the days when those you competing only with dental and elective surgery professionals for PPE and test supplies.

And while it might be fashionable for some to criticize CMS for its perceived tardiness or lack of activity in response to pandemic conditions in nursing homes, it should be noted that the agency is not going after the good actors among you. I can also confirm that CMS Administrator Seema Verma has been certain at every announcement, punitive and otherwise, to say that most nursing home operators have been doing, or at least trying to do, the right things.

But when it comes to college football, and probably a host of other social and sporting activities. all kinds of other players are going to spring ahead of you.

You’re going to become invisible. And the crowds will cheer.

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.