In sports, there’s progress — or maybe there isn’t

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Art Spander

The NBA is set to restart, or so we’re told. Baseball’s battle for the moment is about the health of those involved, rather than the salaries. And Denny Hamlin won a NASCAR race and then pulled on a mask with his own face painted on the front.

Comic relief, which the territory of sports can use, along with games.

We’re still getting baseball from Korea called by ESPN announcers in New England and Florida. “We went from historic to prehistoric,” said Jon Sciambi when the Dinos overtook the Bears.

We’re still getting more follow-ups to “The Last Dance.” “Pippen beyond livid over his portrayal,” one headline read a couple days after the series came to an end.

We’re still getting conflicting reports as to whether college football will be played in empty stadiums, which despite all advice from the scientific and medical communities is a virtual impossibility because unfilled seats mean budget deficits.

“What’s at stake here is a human life,” Andy Dolich, the longtime Bay Area sports consultant, told ESPN.

Well, if you’re going to put it that way.

As it was back in March, when minutes before tipoff Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive and everywhere sports came to a shuddering halt, the issue is the coronavirus.

Everything is being done to stop it, and right to this moment the effort has been as successful as trying to stop Michael Jordan or LeBron James (pick your timeframe).

Not that everyone isn’t trying.

So a golf event and two stock car races have been held without fans, and on Sunday Tiger Woods and Tom Brady team to face Phil Mickelson and Peyton Manning in a competition that is little more than entertainment but at least is live.

Meanwhile, the NBA keeps telling us the games are close, yet who knows where or when? Orlando? Las Vegas? July? Each of the 30 teams? Or excluding the bottom-dwellers, meaning, sigh, the Warriors?

Adam Scott, the Australian golfer, doesn’t think the health protections created by the PGA Tour are enough to keep its players safe.

“They are being fairly thorough, but my initial reaction was I was surprised it wasn’t tighter than it is,” Scott told the Australian Associated Press. “What concerns me is dialogue that (the Tour) is hopeful of returning a one- or two-hour test. You’d want that in place before competing.”

Scott said he will not play in the first six events back, which start on June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, but he will likely resume in late July at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational before playing the PGA Championship at San Francisco’s Harding Park.

“An asymptomatic person could operate within a tournament,” he said. “If they’re not showing symptoms, and I somehow picked it up inside the course, and I’m disqualified, I’m now self-isolating [in that city] for two weeks.”

How many baseball or NBA players feel the same is uncertain, but some have conceded that they have preexisting conditions that could lead to contracting the virus.

Basketball players constantly are colliding. Baseball wants to eliminate spitting, which beginning with tobacco, now banned, and continuing to sunflower seeds has always been part of a game where there's a lot of standing around.

Age is said to be in the danger zone. And while players are young, some coaches and managers are not. Dusty Baker, long with the San Francisco Giants and now managing the Houston Astros, is 70; San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is 71.

“We’re having to work to separate fact from fiction to make sure our guys are protected,” a baseball union member told ESPN. “And it’s a very delicate situation.”

Understandably. As Andy Dolich said, what’s at stake is a human life.

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