Dick Vitale wants everybody to be safe.
That’s his greatest concern.
He also wants to see sports again, as soon as possible, as the country continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m a sports fanatic,” he told Sporting News, citing his status as season-ticket holder of the Rays, Buccaneers and Notre Dame football.
Seeing those teams play again soon, though, is far below safety in terms of his priorities. This is why he issued a series of tweets over the weekend that initially suggested a preference for no sports at all if fans could not be present but gradually morphed into a different position.
He clarified his stance Monday to Sporting News:
“What I’m simply saying, if they paint a very positive picture that things are fine, I have no problem with them starting with no fans. It’s better than nothing.
“I always try to look at the glass half-filled rather than half-empty. I’m just saying I want to make sure that everybody is saying it’s safe; safe for everybody involved. I want to see the action. But I’m smart enough to understand, unless there’s clarity to me that it is safe beyond a doubt, why should players be involved?
“This thing’s got me scared, more than anything in my 80 years.”
Vitale had to postpone his annual gala, which was to take place this weekend. It now is scheduled for Sept. 4. His event raises $5 million a year to battle pediatric cancer; donations still can be made at DickVitale.com.
Vitale worries that if an event is not safe for fans, how can it be for the competitors? But he also said he expects that if colleges return to in-person campus learning in the fall, “You’ve got to play, and I think they will play.”
Vitale expressed concerns about whether testing is a sufficient gauge for the re-opening of sports competition because tests have not proven to be 100 percent accurate. However, in a re-opening scenario, athletes would be tested many times over a “preseason” training period and any issues — so long as they follow established protocols that likely would limit public interaction — likely would be discovered before competition resumes/begins.
Vitale said if there were a vaccine developed, that would mitigate his concern. He also would be encouraged if Dr. Anthony Fauci, the voice of the U.S. government’s response to the pandemic, declared returning to competition to be acceptable.
The NBA suspended its 2019-20 season on March 11, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. The NHL and other leagues followed on March 12, the same day the NCAA canceled spring sports championships and men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
Vitale said “it was tough” not being involved in March Madness for the first time in decades; he has been at ESPN since 1979; the network broadcast part of the tournament for most of his first decade there, and he has helped cover and analyze since CBS took over.
“I was able to comprehend and understand basketball, as much as I love it, was not the most important thing to deal with,” Vitale told SN. “My heart breaks for all those kids like Obi Toppin, the Dayton team, but if that’s the biggest problem they have, they’ll have a hell of a life. There’s a hurt, but you’ve got to deal with it.”