A symbol and a virus rattle sports

© John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

A symbol, a noose, was found in the track garage of the only African-American NASCAR driver. A PGA Tour golfer and two world-class tennis players were stricken with COVID-19.

The sporting world? About the same as the real world.

A long-ago Kingston Trio song reminded, “What nature doesn’t do to us will be done by our fellow man.”

What was done to Bubba Wallace at Talladega Speedway seemed a desperate attempt to return stock car racing to the Deep South origins from which, with the banning of Confederate flags, it just painfully escaped.

“Two steps forward, one back,” Dr. Harry Edwards, the sports sociologist, said about the incident and racism.

NASCAR, stock car racing, once the domain of Good Ol’ Boys, is now under the control of bright young men, on track and off.

Yet to those who know the sport, the words of one of the best and oldest of the boys, Richard Petty, now 82 and owner of Wallace’s car, were particularly powerful. Petty demanded the “sick person” be expelled forever from NASCAR.

Another sort of sickness is no less a problem. NASCAR drivers continue to wear masks for protection as they go around tracks where right now fans mostly are not allowed.

Cars, horse racing and golf have been the returning COVID-19 pioneers. The others? Day by day, virus cases spike and plans change.

The NBA, at least its teams that are still eligible, is headed to Orlando, Disney World, first to practice and then play games within a bubble, sleeping, dining and competing in areas that have been cleansed and isolated.

Yet, virus cases have grown in Florida, and some players have opted out of the bubble, as much to be with their families, from whom they would be separated for days, as for the worry they could catch the virus.

The bad news is within the past week, golf champion Nick Watney, who played in last week’s RBC Heritage, got the virus; tennis stars Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Cornic were stricken during Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour; 30 members of the LSU football team, two players from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and members of the Phillies and Blue Jays also were stricken.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the immunologist who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned us: we’re trying to move too quickly. We may have not have an NFL season; who knows about the NBA, and even if baseball can reach a labor agreement, games are in doubt.

Golf so far has been protective; fans will be allowed at the Memorial in a couple weeks. But even with no galleries on the fairways, there are dangers.

“I mean, no offense to Hilton Head," the pro Justin Thomas told journalist Alex Miceli about the site of the Heritage, “but it’s an absolute zoo around here. There’s people everywhere. The beaches are packed. Every restaurant from what I’ve seen is filled.”

Maybe that’s why Watney caught the virus. Now he must self-isolate. That’s a fear of other athletes; they get ill far from home (Watney, originally from Northern California, now lives in Texas) and then are stuck in a hotel by themselves.

And for NBA players, there is another worry about entering the bubble: a failure to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

“In six weeks, the world may need some healing,” Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers said in a video chat. “They may need us to be on the floor. But if more black kids or more black adults dealing with police brutality are getting killed, I don’t know if our best interests are to suit up because it looks like we don’t care.”

They care. This is a time for caring, about a virus that has us baffled and a noose that has us outraged. Two steps forward, said Harry Edwards, one back.

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