Column: Cathy Engelbert, WNBA need to reconsider its Florida summer getaway

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

In typical times, the idea of traveling to Florida in the summertime seems like an occasion anyone would look forward to. From the theme parks of Orlando to the sun, sand, surf and beaches of its coasts to the nightclubs and diversity of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Florida is the Sunshine State for a reason – and for many it is also a vacation state.

Thanks to this ashy, crazy, ugly doer-of-no-good better known as Corona, it has put virtually all American sports sans NASCAR and golf on hold for a number of months with leagues scrambling how to either re-start or completely begin seasons.

The WNBA is one of those leagues – and it announced recently a plan for the 2020 WNBA season to take place at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The plan was for the season to be a 22-game slate plus playoffs with players being paid their full salaries.

Players have until this Thursday to inform their respective teams if they intend to play the season or opt-out. We know that Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream will sit out this season to put further emphasis on social justice issues as the country continues its real, unfiltered and honest conversation with itself regarding race.

We also know that Emma Meesseman, last year’s Finals MVP for the Washington Mystics is traveling to the United States to prepare for the 2020 season while two of her teammates in Natasha Cloud (Black Lives Matter) and Latoya Sanders (health) will not play. We also know that Jonquel Jones, one of the Connecticut Sun’s marquee players announced she will sit out the season.

Other WNBA players have been vocal about their thoughts on social media.

While it is admirable that Meesseman wants to play, one also has to understand Montgomery and Jones – particularly given how Florida has become the new New York on the subject of rising cases.

And for an even clearer and more stark picture into how bad the problem has become … here is Manatee County where Bradenton is located.

The WNBA, NBA and MLS have all considered season returns in “bubbles” in Florida. Unless Covid-19 cases take a sharp decrease between now and late next month, which seems unlikely given how much of a cluster the state’s response has been, it is a disaster waiting to happen.

Sydney Wiese (Los Angeles Sparks) tested positive earlier this year and Theresa Plaisance also had virus-like symptoms after playing in China. Liz Cambage even said in an interview she believed she had the virus previously after playing in China, but beat it.

Thinking about the rising case load in not only the Bradenton area, but also Florida as a whole made us think about this tweet from the one and only Howard Megdal…

Our guess is Engelbert and Terri Jackson are taking a much harder look at those fallback contingency destinations. Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis deemed sports “essential” in his state (which is why, for some reason, WWE is still holding shows in the state at its Performance Center in Orlando), but that is only because his state’s response has been dictated primarily by dollars and cents instead of data and science (and sense).

According to this Reuters chart, Covid cases are on the rise in states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Nevada, California and others. Where have cases been on the decrease?

States such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland. Also – Washington, D.C.

Another state that is on that list? Connecticut. Hint, hint. Engelbert. Hint, hint Adam Silver.

In this case, the WNBA’s advantage is the fact it is a smaller league than some of its peers, including its older and bigger brother, the NBA. Organizing a W “bubble” is not as daunting as would be the case for the NBA’s planned Disney bubble or the proposal of “hub cities” being floated around in the NHL.

Also – if cases continue to decrease in those states, what would even the problem with allowing capped attendance at arenas? After all, it is very easy to tell which states have administered coronavirus responses based on data and science and which ones are worshipping at the alter of the almighty dollar.

Perhaps if sports commissioners such as Engelbert, Silver and Don Garber (MLS) reward states that are beating Covid-19 into the ground as opposed to states that have adopted the lazy concept of “herd immunity,” then perhaps it would be a signal to other states that following the lead of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and others is not only an effort to save as much lives as possible, but is also good business as well.

Herd immunity is all fine and good … until you or a loved one ends up with the virus and you have headlines written about you the way the British press did about prime minister Boris Johnson when he caught the virus after he led an initially lackadaisical response.

After all, New Zealand is a country that took on the virus head-on and fearlessly. Now look at it.

We also looked up who New Zealand’s head of state is. No surprise after seeing that video that its head of state is … a woman. Hint, hint United States.

Which is why we ultimately have confidence our WNBA will get this right. Comparing a sports commissioner such as Engelbert to New Zealand’s Jacinda Adern (or even Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer) is about as apples to oranges as one can possibly get. But this pandemic’s message has been clear that the leadership of women is sorely needed more than ever because women have came, saw and kicked this virus’ you-know-what.

Florida – and really the whole southeast is simply not it. As much as we and others would love to see a 2020 WNBA season, the only cases we want to see on the rise are those of defenders getting nutmegged by point guards.

In the … Nutmeg State, perhaps?

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