Column: Sports should require fans be vaxxed – or stay home

Aug 20, 2021, 4:31 AM | Updated: 9:32 pm

The Raiders have always prided themselves on being a maverick franchise, so maybe it wasn’t too surprising that they were the first NFL team to take such a bold — yet obvious — step.

Now every other sports team — both college and pro — should follow the lead of the Silver & Black and require spectators to get vaccinated.

Amid a surge of coronavirus cases as the highly contagious delta variant spreads across the United States, Las Vegas’ football team announced this week that all fans must show proof of a jab to attend games.

“Health and safety has always been our No. 1 priority,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “This policy ensures that we will be able to operate at full capacity without masks for fully vaccinated fans for the entire season.”

The idea of having a packed stadium for the entire season seems out of touch with reality, given that each day brings another six-figure round of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. And while we’re at it, we wish Davis and others weren’t so eager to dump masks, a cheap, relatively low-hassle way to stifle the spread of the virus.

But requiring vaccinations — or at least a negative COVID-19 test — for fans to attend a sporting event is the most logical, effective way to deal with the spike of new cases just weeks before the start of the NFL and college football seasons.

Beyond the Raiders, there are glimmers of hope.

The city of New Orleans enacted new rules last week for indoor arenas and entertainment venues that require anyone attending a Saints game at the Superdome to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of kickoff.

Masks also will be required.

“We are committed to doing everything we can in the current environment to protect your health and safety while at the same time providing the best game day experience in the NFL,” the Saints told their fans. “We understand some will be frustrated, as are we, that we find ourselves in this position.”

Tulane, a private college in the Big Easy and member of American Athletic Conference, said it will have the same vaccination and testing requirements to attend its home sporting events, even though its football stadium is an outdoor facility.

The Green Wave thus became the first major college football program to make such a move.

On Friday, others followed their lead.

Both Oregon and Oregon State of the Pac-12 said anyone ages 12 and older attending a university event — yep, that includes football — would need a vaccine or negative test to get in.

Hawaii, a member of the Mountain West, won’t have any fans at its home football games, at least to start the season. Honolulu officials issued the ban due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state and hospitals being overwhelmed, though they plan to re-evaluate that decision in coming weeks.

Beyond football, Long Beach, California, has mandated that pretty much everyone wear a mask, as well as provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, to attend IndyCar’s Sept. 26 season finale on a street course winding along the city’s waterfront.

Bravo, Long Beach.

New Orleans’ requirements will allow the 73,000-seat Superdome to operate at full capacity during football season, which wasn’t permitted last year as the entire sports world limited how many fans could attend games to preserve social distancing.

Those policies have largely been lifted in U.S. sports, as teams and colleges try to make up for the billions in lost revenue since the start of the pandemic.

Except for Hawaii, there has been no serious talk of going back to sparsely filled or empty stadiums, even with rising death tolls and hospital ICU units packed to capacity in some states — though it must be noted there is scant evidence of sporting events becoming “superspreaders.”

Clearly, American sports have decided they will take a different path than much of the rest of the world, even in those countries that have dealt with only a fraction of our staggering toll of deaths (at least 625,000) and cases (more than 37 million).

In Tokyo, the recently completed Olympics were staged in empty arenas while the city and five other areas were under a state of emergency, and it will be the same for the Paralympics that begin next week.

The Australian Football League, which early in its season was allowing some of the largest sports crowds since the start of the pandemic, has gone back to playing in empty stadiums because of a surge in cases.

But American sports are not willing to endure another devastating assault on their almighty bottom line, so vaccinations — and masks, too — are the most reliable line of defense.

So, let’s applaud NFL teams such as the Raiders and the Saints, and colleges such as Oregon, Oregon State and Tulane, and cities such as Long Beach and Honolulu for their stances. And let’s keep pushing for leagues and college conferences to impose a universal vaccination mandate for fans to come through the gates.

Imagine the impact if not just the hugely popular NFL, but an entity as culturally influential as the Southeastern Conference or the Big Ten, had such a requirement.

Major League Baseball could get on board. NASCAR and IndyCar, too. And let’s not forget the NBA and NHL, which will be beginning new seasons in a few short months.

Without question, America’s hodge-podge approach to containing the virus has not worked. Time and time again, it has run roughshod through our cities and neighborhoods, even since highly effective vaccines became widely available.

We need sports to provide the sort of unified — and, hopefully, unifying — approach that might finally get this pandemic under control.

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Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and check out his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

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Column: Sports should require fans be vaxxed – or stay home