Mini-Episode: Will There Be Sports? with Adam Schefter

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Andy calls up Adam Schefter in-between his SportsCenter appearances to talk about sports in the era of the coronavirus. The pandemic has cancelled seasons for the pros, college athletes, and for you and your kids. Leagues around the world are looking to resume play, but should they?

Show notes

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[00:44] Andy Slavitt: Welcome to In the Bubble, sports version. This is Andy. We have our “will there be sports?” version today with Adam Schefter, the senior NFL analyst for ESPN. Well, the question, if you care about sports then — and you might not, in which case maybe you might find this a pretty interesting conversation, anyway. I wouldn’t turn it off. It’s about sports, school, politics. He’s a really, really bright guy and very direct. But the real question is, can we have a sports season this season? And should we? And how do different players feel about it? How do different owners feel about it? That’s kind of what we covered. We recorded this last Monday, a week ago, June 29th. And I tell you that because if something happened between then and now, we didn’t know about it then. But I think you’ll really get a kick out of this podcast. Here we go. 


[02:18] Adam Schefter: Hello, Andy, how are you doing? 


[02:24] Andy Slavitt: Good. I think we’re here at the cross-section of sports and Coronavirus.


[02:50] Adam Schefter: It’s unbelievable. It’s quite an intersection.


[02:52] Andy Slavitt: It is. It is. And I guess we want to know what you think is gonna happen. And then maybe talk a little bit about how it might work. A lot of people miss their sports. Sports leagues trying to figure it out. You start with any league you want, I know you cover the NFL, obviously so well. But what do you see happening? 


[03:10] Adam Schefter: You know, it’s funny. I was just texting with somebody, an executive in an NFL team, and we were talking about a common friend of ours, a gentleman by the name of Paul Sheehy, who’s a dear friend of mine, who is an agent out in Colorado, a football agent. And he’s now on a ventilator in a hospital in Colorado. And I didn’t actually find out about it until this afternoon. And first and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with Paul, because he’s a dear friend and he’s a great man and he’s got a family and we want Paul to be OK. But beyond that, this particular individual said to me that we had to be prepared in football to have some of these older coaches get sick, get the virus, be hospitalized, be put on a ventilator. Hopefully not, but I mean, that’s probably a realistic scenario. And as I said to him, hopefully that doesn’t happen. I don’t know how real or realistic that is or isn’t. But beyond that, I feel like — and this is true of football, and the NBA starting up, and baseball and school and anything. I feel like everybody’s got hopes and plans that we’re going to be able to pull this off and do our best to make this work out. But it feels like it’s a house of cards that could just come tumbling down at any moment. Am I wrong, Andy?


[04:29] Andy Slavitt: Boy, you know, if I were commissioner or an owner, I’d feel like they have a tough time taking that kind of risk. And knowing how to take that kind of risk with someone else’s family and someone else’s life. I would know my job is to try to put some sort of product on the field, but I’d be really concerned until we figured out how to get everybody tested and be sure that people weren’t at risk. I mean, you know better than me, but I doubt every player in the NFL is in perfect physical condition. 

[05:03] Adam Schefter: You know, here’s the question and the debate I’ve had with various executives on various teams. And I think, again, it points out part of the problem in the new world that we’re living in. You’re going to scenarios this season if they’re able to pull it off again, we preface everything by saying that. Right. If they’re able to pull it off, they’re going to these players going to meetings. And the example that was used to me was one example, I’ll turn it around and use another example, but these guys are in meeting rooms. And so you’ll have a — in the words of this particular individual — you’ll have a seasoned veteran guy who’s been around the NFL for 10 years. Done well, is married, has family, kids, who has learned to take his job a little bit more seriously than somebody coming at a college who’s 21, 22, not married, no dependents, a little bit more carefree about their life. And this gentleman, this veteran, is going to be in that room knowing that he’ll have been taking care of his family, doing the right thing, being a pro. And the young guy may have been out all night at some nightclub, may have been out all night with some woman. You don’t know where he’s been, who he’s been around. And what risk he’s been exposed to. That’s the example I use and that could create some tension in that room. But somebody said, well, maybe, maybe it’s the young guy that’s it early and the seasoned guy is out all night. And then that could be. But the idea is that there are two different individuals with two different perspectives and lifestyles living different lives. And once they’re put in that same room, that everybody’s in the same boat. 


[06:42] Andy Slavitt: Right. I mean, the level of trust that you have, to have that all of us have to have, by the people we interact with, has gone up much higher. If you’re gonna interact with people outside of your immediate family, if you’re going to get to a situation where you’re going to be around people who make all kinds of independent decisions all day long, then you know those impact on you. So what precautions is the league —


[07:09] Adam Schefter: Before you even ask that, Andy, there’s a lot of money at stake, too, right? If you’re a player making, I’m making this up, $16 million a year and making a million dollars a week, and somebody is infecting you and you are out for three weeks, the NFL and the NFL Players Association still haven’t figured out a scenario as to what happens that money, but that player could conceivably be at risk at losing close to a million dollars per week for three weeks. So now when I’m putting my trust in my fellow man, if he has gotten me sick now, he’s putting not only me at risk, my family at risk, now my income at risk. So there’s so much involved in this. It’s amazing. But anyway, I interrupted you. Finish up with your question. 


[07:51] Andy Slavitt: So what precautions is the league prepared to take, given that there is so much money at stake, both for the players, the TV contracts and everything else?


[08:16] Adam Schefter: I don’t have the answer because I don’t know. And I think teams are waiting to hear how this is going to work. Again, the NFL has issued all these guidelines that, again, we’ve heard some coaches talk about, they don’t see how they can be adhered to. Like if you’ve been in an NFL locker room during training camp when there are 90 players on the roster, you know that the players’ lockers are basically stacked on top of each other. An NFL locker room during the season, with 53 or this year, 55 players, is busy enough as it is. And now they’re saying six feet of distance between lockers. Let me tell you something: I covered the Denver Broncos for 16 years, and John Elway, who was like the pope of Denver, had a locker in the corner of the locker room that I could still see. They gave him three lockers, OK, because he was John Elway. And I still don’t know that he had six feet back in the day when they’re not social distancing rules to adhere to. So it was hard to administer back then for the biggest stars in the game. Now, I guess training facilities might be a little bigger, locker rooms might be a little bit more spacious. They might have a little bit more room. But to think that you’re going to get six feet between 55 men, just think of the square footage involved there. It’s enormous. 


[09:28] Andy Slavitt: If they get six feet in a locker room, they’re not going to get six feet in the field. 


[09:32] Adam Schefter: Well, the sport in and of itself is not designed to be a socially distant sport. Men come up against each other on every single play. Their faces are in each other’s face. The huddle. You’re eleven guys in a huddle, all sticking your head in there, leaning in for the play. I don’t know. You tell me. What if they’re wearing face masks that cover their entire face? Does that make a difference? What if they’re wearing gloves and face masks? You tell me. Does that make a difference? I don’t know the answer to these things. 


[10:09] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, well, every little bit helps. And, you know, you’re decreasing your risk. The question is, what are you risking? If you’re a 24 year old, very fit person? Maybe you feel like you’re not risking much. If you’re a 32 year old offensive lineman with a family, maybe you’re risking a lot more. The problem with this virus is you just never know. It could hit the two of us. You’re younger than me, you’re better looking than me, you got a lot more going for yourself than me. The virus could hit both of us and it could knock you over and it could do nothing to me for reasons we don’t yet understand. 


[10:46] Adam Schefter: That’s the unpredictable part. I’ve even heard where —  and again, I’ll defer to your wisdom, not mine here — but they don’t know the long term effect it would have on a person’s brain. Right? So that’s in question. But you think that even though you may be a model of health, who knows if you get the virus at age 23 in peak physical condition, if the virus isn’t going to affect your brain at 43 or 53? Right? We don’t know that. 


[11:15] Andy Slavitt: Right. We don’t know. We don’t know. And, you know, I think some of these risks, I can hear people saying, OK, I’m not going to worry about things I don’t know. Fine, reasonable. But some things we’re starting to learn. And there’s, of course, just as you say, there’s the coaches. It doesn’t take a lot of interaction, doesn’t take a lot indoors. There’s trainers. And then you’ve got this whole idea of can you play a football game in an empty stadium? First of all, do the economics work? I understand most of the money comes from TV licensing and so forth. Unlike baseball, which I think most of the money that supports the league comes from tickets. And you can correct me if I’m wrong here. But the idea of an empty stadium football game or a quarter filled stadium, is that what they’re picturing? 


[12:06] Adam Schefter: Andy, I’ll tell you this. If it is an empty stadium, and I think that’s the way it is going right now and it changes all the time, but if it turns out to be that’s empty stadiums, it will cost NFL owners more money to play the game than it would be to not play the game. Because they’d have to pay all the players and incur all those costs, operate the stadium. As opposed to not doing any of that if the game and the sport were to be shut down. So it’s more expensive for them to play the games than it would be to cancel the games. 


[15:12] Andy Slavitt: I’m going to ask you question you can’t possibly know the answer to, but maybe you do. If you polled all of the owners today and said should we play or not play, what do you think the result would be?


[15:22] Adam Schefter: I think the poll would be overwhelmingly in favor of playing.


[15:27] Andy Slavitt: If you polled all the players, same question. What do you think the response would be? 


[15:32] Adam Schefter: Same. Overwhelmingly in favor of playing. 


[15:35] Andy Slavitt: And do you think that it’s because they understand the risks, weigh them and there’s a lot of money on the line and therefore are willing to take the calculation? Or do you think they don’t understand the risks as well as maybe they should? And if they understood differently, they might feel differently?\


[15:55] Adam Schefter: I think it’s all those things. How about that? And again, I don’t know that my answer is correct. But I would guess that most owners want to play. These are valuable franchises, I would think that most players, they’re not making money. They’re not playing. And there’s a lot of money at stake at this point. Now, I’ll go back to you. Do you think they are aware of the risks that are — I don’t know that any of us are aware of the full risks that are involved by playing. Because, look, if you look around our country right now, there are a lot of people who aren’t wearing masks, who don’t believe the virus is real. Look, you’re on social media. You’re on Twitter. I’m on Instagram, on Twitter. You post something about the virus, there are as many, if not more comments about people who don’t believe it, tho don’t think it’s a real deal, who don’t think it’s serious. Who think there’s an overreaction. I had somebody at my house last week, somebody that was here to fix something, and he was telling me that this is basically all fear-mongering by the media, that the virus is nothing. It would seem to me that this is a real deal. I ask you with your background, with your knowledge, you tell me. Is it dangerous? Is it real? Is it something we need to be alarmed about? 


[17:25] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. Look, forget me. Go ask somebody who lives in New York or New Jersey or Connecticut or Detroit. Here’s the problem. Look, this is a sociological problem. It’s understood, it actually was predicted to me by people who know these things better than I do, that if you live in a community where you know someone who’s died, sadly, or people who’ve been very sick. And I talked to the governor of Michigan on this show last week, three of her family members died from COVID-19. And she described the experience as the following. The person goes into the hospital and you never see them again. You don’t visit them. You don’t identify the body. There’s no funeral. That’s it. And she’s like, when you’ve seen that, it’s very difficult to explain to somebody. Now, you take someone who lives in, I don’t know, pick some other part of the country, and they don’t necessarily know anybody that’s died, but they do know 10 people who’ve lost their jobs. They do know three friends who own restaurants that have gone out of business. And from their point of view, from their experience, this is overblown. Because a couple things happen. One is the TV cameras never made it inside the hospitals. And if the TV cameras had made it inside hospitals, that would be different. Secondly, I think we have a kind of distrusting culture. We’re also, I think, a little bit impatient. Thirdly, I think the more news that comes out that says it’s about old people. It’s about black people. It’s about poor people, people who are not none of those things tend to feel a little safer. It’s human nature. And what I try to tell people is none of the people who feel the way they do are the bad guy. The bad guy is the virus. All of us are trying to figure out how to deal with it. We’re doing the best we can. And so if you’ve got to make a decision where a lot of people’s health and lives are on the line, like the NFL decision, like going back to school for my son, there’s a lot of factors. No one knows the perfect answer. And you’ve got to decide how you’re going to trade off these risks. 


[19:30] Adam Schefter: What grade is your son in? 


[19:32] Zach Slavitt: I’m gonna be a freshman in college next year at UPenn.


[19:37] Adam Schefter: Wow. My nephew just graduated there. I have a niece that goes there. It’s a great school. Congratulations. So how do you feel about going, and Andy, how do you feel about having your son go to college in the fall? 


[19:49] Zach Slavitt: Yeah, I think me and a lot of people were disappointed that we can’t go in our freshman year the same way that everybody’s thinking it was gonna be for the last several years. And I’m not sure whether people are gonna follow the rules they’re putting out. And I am actually worried it’s not going to even be able to function in a limited capacity. I think it could end up being online, kind of similar to what could happen with the NBA, could happen with the NFL. 


[20:16] Adam Schefter: We’re back to the house of cards that I’m talking about. Right. Like everybody goes in hoping and thinking and believing that they’ll be able to pull it off until there is an outbreak of some sort.


[20:26] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. For me. You know, his older brother just moved to New York, had Coronavirus and has the antibodies and is living there now. He’s 22. And, you know, he’s in the prime of his life and he probably can’t believe that the whole world knows about coronavirus. He’s a great kid. They’re both super responsible. They both recognize that whatever minor hardships they’ve had to deal with have been inconveniences compared to the impact of this on, say, a doctor or a nurse on the front line in New York or someone who has been impacted by it. So, look, you can’t be around your kids 24 hours a day anyway, so you have to make sure they understand the situation. You have to trust them. You have to hope they take smart risks. And if we had better capabilities in this country to do rapid testing, we’d be a lot less worried. The problem is a lot of places just rushed open. And I think there’s a set of circumstances under which you can’t open colleges and schools and play football and all that. But the country has been in a rush that is not based on conditions on the ground, but based upon hitting dates that either the president or someone else feels are important.


[21:43] Adam Schefter: Well, what’s interesting to me, and is that there are some countries, Korea, that have done an unbelievable job handling this virus. So how hard is it for our leaders, our government leaders, to just figure out what these places are doing right and implement that idea here, is that ludicrously preposterous? I don’t get it. Like there’s a roadmap out there. Go follow it!


[22:11] Andy Slavitt: There is Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Germany. I could go on and on. The Czech Republic for three weeks, they wore masks for a number of weeks, they crushed the virus. And now they’re back at work and they don’t even have to wear masks. So I try not to make this podcast political. Having said that, at this point in time, I think it’s fair to say if we had a strategy we followed, we’d be in a better place.


[22:45] Adam Schefter: And this is not political, I don’t care who is the president, Senate, please, for the sake of humankind, for the sake of society, figure out what these places are doing and do it here. That’s it. That’s not asking much, right? We want to save lives. We want people to be healthy. We want Zach to go to school. We want your son to thrive in New York. We want my daughter to go back to school. Come on!


[23:15] Andy Slavitt: The one thing that’s the hardest thing of all, which is and — I’m going to be political. The president saying he doesn’t have all the answers and we’re not the best. And he hasn’t done a 10 out of 10 job. But a little bit of humility, learning, and being straight with the public to say, look, this is a hard situation. We’re figuring it out. As we learn more, we’ll do better. 


[23:38] Adam Schefter: What I would just say is, again, I come back to this. There are success stories with this virus. You mentioned the countries. Do we not have people whose job it is to be studying these societies to see what they did, and then implement those strategies here? It’s so obvious. Let’s do it. 


[24:07] Andy Slavitt; Zach had a question that he wanted to ask you about.


[24:11] Zach Slavitt: Yeah. With the NBA, just because they have a plan out. I was wondering what would happen if a star player tested positive, even if they were able to remove the player, get nobody else sick, player has no symptoms. What do you think would happen? Say, Cam Newton gets it. Say LeBron gets it.

[24:29] Adam Schefter: I just had this conversation literally 30 minutes ago with somebody. We were talking about the NBA. And that was the exact example he used. What if LeBron gets it? And again, we have not been in that situation before. This executive just texted me, what happens if and when an NFL coach is put on a ventilator? What happens? And I think there are any number of these scenarios that we could bring up, which we haven’t had to face before. But my guess would be that if a star as big as the game, bigger than the game, like LeBron got it, that I think it’s fair to say the season would be in jeopardy. I think that that’s fair to say. I’m not a decision maker in the NBA. I don’t know how they run. But LeBron has enough followers that if he got it, and he couldn’t play, couldn’t you see his teammate? Well, I’m out. I’m out. I’m out. And boom, we’re back to our house of cards again.


[25:24] Andy Slavitt: The average parent out there who’s got a kid in, maybe it’s soccer, maybe it’s Pop Warner football. Maybe it’s baseball, Little League, gymnastics, ice skating, whatever it is, hockey. Or maybe it’s a coach, or a league head. You’re a very humble guy, you’ve been very clear that you don’t have these answers. But I think you’ve got a lot of insight and you clearly think about these issues. What advice do you have for people who sports are a part of their kids lives and they’re not quite sure what to do?


[26:02] Adam Schefter: Well, you’re asking me that question because I cover sports. And so it gives me the authority to answer in a sports way. But I don’t think that the answer is really any different than if we’re talking about somebody going to work, or somebody going to school, or somebody going out on a date or whatever it may be. And I think we’re in a situation, Andy, where everybody makes their own rules right now, for better or worse. And everybody knows that they’re comfortable or uncomfortable with certain things. Our daughter is home for the summer. We just took her to like a little tennis lesson because we’re trying to find things for her to do. We walked into this park and there were all these people around a pool, no masks. I’m going, oh, I don’t feel comfortable here. Now, again, we’re thinking about putting her in a group tennis lesson with four kids, four girls her age, and they’re outside. And I think, we’ll see, that we’re going to be comfortable with that. But everything is almost a case by case basis, whether you’re a parent deciding whether your child is allowed to play sports, whether you’re a parent deciding whether your child is allowed to go to school, whether you’re a parent who’s deciding whether your child is allowed to go out. I don’t know how Zach is, but we’ve had battles with our son, who just turned 20, who’s going to his junior year college, he’s wanted to go out with his friends. 


[27:30] Adam Schefter: And we live in New York here. And in March, we didn’t let him, and in April, we didn’t let him. And in May, we didn’t let him. And in June, we began, I guess, in part because we were a little bit worn out from him, to ease some of the restrictions a little bit. And now we’re trusting. You got to be smart. You’ve got to be. Is he doing that? I have no idea. I’d like to think he is, but we’re giving him some slack. We’re giving him some rope. Hopefully doesn’t hang himself. Doesn’t hang us. My wife’s a type-one diabetic, you know, so we’re extra vigilant about what we do and what we don’t do. And there are no right or wrong answers, because everybody’s going to do what they want to do. As I’m saying, you there are people out there who don’t believe this should have to wear a mask. I can’t believe that there are people who are like that, but that’s how they are. In some places it is a law. It is a rule. I walked into a grocery store this morning and said, you must have a mask on or it’s against the law. You’re not allowed in the store, which is to me how it should be. And I notice now as I’m walking, there’s a gentleman who didn’t have a mask. And I’m I’m looking at him like, the heck’s this guy doing? So I know I’m very well aware of what people are and aren’t doing, but I can’t tell people how to live their life because everybody decides what they are and aren’t comfortable with.


[28:48] Andy Slavitt: We’ve got to kind of take a deep breath, give each other break. And as a close, I just say, there’s going to be other sports seasons. There’s going to be sports seasons for the rest of our lives. And so if we have either a mucked up, weird, not at all, or kind of strangely accommodating season for one year — I know it feels like a long time for people — this time will pass. 


[29:13] Adam Schefter: But what’s going to change that one year, that one year from now? Let’s just say everything’s tabled. Everyone stays home for — what’s changing a year from now?


[29:20] Andy Slavitt: Well, a few things that are changing. One of them is a year from now, this is gonna be a lot less deadly disease because the three major complications that are killing people, namely, that they have an overactive immune system, they get blood clots or they have breathing disorders. There’s already drugs — not only in development, but being used — that are already effective. So the fatality rate of the disease is going to go down over time, probably. Secondly, there will be some amount of immunity in the population. I suspect by the end of the summer it’s going to be 15 to 20 percent. And if you have a vaccine sometime in 2021, which there’s no guarantee of, even if it works for 30 to 40 percent of the people who take it, like a flu vaccine, and even if only 50 to 60 percent of the people take it by that time, if you’ve got people wearing masks, this is easy to control. We won’t figure out everything. But if you give us a little time, our scientists are getting there. The problem is our scientists are racing against our own impatience. I get it. People are missing income. People are stressed. You know, I’m not making light of any of that. But I’m saying is we can’t see our way past the fact that, you know, we want things to be better today. And unfortunately, we need to have a little more patience than that. 


[30:42] Adam Schefter: But you’re right about that. And it’s basically short-term pain for long-term gain. But some people aren’t willing to suffer the short term pain. 


[30:52] Andy Slavitt: Right. Well, look, that’s the role of leadership. I mean, good leadership — again, I’m not trying to be political — is to say, look, this is why we’re doing it. Short term pain. Long term gain. Everyone’s doing the best they can. I think it would give everybody a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. As you said, nobody’s a bad person for thinking they shouldn’t wear a mask. We may not agree with them, but, you know, there’s no way to convince them by bullying them or trying to use some kind of paper study to convince them. 


[31:19] Adam Schefter: Yeah, that’s I mean, listen, you this is this is your beat. This is your topic. You’re the expert in this area. You’ve done an unbelievable job handling all this. And your daily updates are tremendously appreciated, which is how I reached out to you to commend you on the job. Zach, your dad’s been a starter on this.


[31:35] Andy Slavitt: See that? That’s nice of you. And you’ve made me a star by appearing on this show. It is very, very kind of you. I think it’s great to try to just puzzle out with you the answer that neither one of us has an answer to, which is, you know, what are we going to do here? So let’s stay in touch. I’ll let you get to your SportsCenter.


[31:56] Adam Schefter: Yeah, there there are very important pressing matters in the sports world, like Cam Newton and the New England Patriots and when he’s gonna pass his physical and, you know, like that story happened on Sunday night. And I’ll just say this. I had some people texting this morning. It’s such a welcome diversion for us to be talking about a player’s signing somewhere and not protocols or measures or safeguards or testing or anything like that. 


[32:16] Andy Slavitt: Nothing wrong with a little escapism. 


[32:19] Adam Schefter: Beautiful. That’s what we like. Hey, Zach, good luck at Penn. Enjoy your time there. Andy, thanks for having me today.


[32:27] Andy Slavitt: Thanks so much. That was an interesting podcast. It was a funny start because we asked him to record himself so we would have a second version. We started out the podcast with Adam Schefter and we’ve not met him before. And he was super friendly, super open. We really appreciate it. He was very gracious. Wednesday we have Congressman Joe Kennedy. And I think you’re really going to like the conversation with Joe. It’s going to be covering a wide range of topics around the Beltway and what’s going on in Washington, politics, health care. So stay tuned. 


[33:25] Andy Slavitt: Thanks for listening to In the Bubble. Hope you rate us highly. We are a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease is our producer. Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs executive produce the show and run our lives. My son Zach Slavitt is my cool co-host and onsite producer. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at a @ASlavitt on Twitter or @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, please, please, please tell your friends to come listen, but from a distance. And for now, stay safe. Share some joy. And we will get through this together. And #StayHome.

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