Berry Tramel: NBA, players tone deaf on coronavirus testing
The NBA – league, owners, players – have made many solid steps in fighting the outbreak of the coronavirus. Starting with pulling the plug on the season the night Rudy Gobert’s test came back positive. America, from politicians to businesses to us ordinary people, seemed to need that jolt of reality. And the philanthropic measures, with owners and players vowing to help financially the arena workers impacted by the stoppage in play.
But the NBA was completely tone deaf Wednesday when both commissioner Adam Silver and union boss Michele Roberts defended so many NBA players getting COVID-19 tests when there’s a massive shortage across the country.
Roberts said she was “disappointed” in the criticism and blamed the federal government for a lack of tests.
"There's nothing irresponsible -- if you've got that information (of exposure to the virus) -- about trying to get the tests," Roberts told ESPN. "The problem that more of us can't get the tests -- and I'm not apologetic about saying it -- in my view, that rests at the foot of the federal government. They were responsible for making sure we were protected in that regard, and I think they failed.”
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OK. I agree. The federal government screwed up. The lack of tests is the government’s fault. But assigning blame doesn’t change anything. There is a scarcity of tests. And far too many of those tests, be they through public or private acquisition, are going to people of affluence. Including the NBA.
Here’s what Roberts is saying: NBA players are not their brother’s keepers. They are the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan. Those in trouble are somebody else’s problems.
“We shouldn't be fighting about this now ... but once this is done and we get through it, and we will, let's figure out who screwed up and fix that,” Roberts said.
Again, great. But that’s not where we are now. Where we are is needing more tests for people who are sick. Not for Donovan Mitchell and Kevin Durant.
Four Brooklyn Nets tested positive for the virus this week. The Nets found the tests through a private company, same as the Thunder did, and the Nets defended the practice.
“Using the test results, we were able to take immediate precautions and strictly isolate the players who tested positive," the Nets said in a statement. "If we had waited for players to exhibit symptoms, they might have continued to pose a risk to their family, friends and the public.”
Yes. Just like the family, friends and public of plumbers in Fargo and schoolteachers in Chattanooga and farmers in Bakersfield and engineers in Amarillo.
The implicit suggestion by the Nets – and Roberts, too, with her dodge on ESPN – is that the NBA players are more important than us run-of-the-mill Americans. Which is a tenet we all sort of live by when things are fine. But when things turn rotten, when a crisis arrives, we are reminded it’s not true. These guys are the world’s best basketball players. They are not necessarily the world’s best people or the world’s most indispensable people. Their lives are not worth more than any others.
Silver told ESPN that eight teams had been tested, with seven players having positive results.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted the obvious, that the Nets had been given preferential treatment with quick testing: “We wish them a speedy recovery. But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick."
In response, Roberts doubled down on her criticism of the government: “I get it. People should not be having to wait in line. The at-risk population should be the first to be tested. But damn it, if the government had done what they were supposed to do, we wouldn't be competing for an opportunity to be tested."
Again, that criticism is old news and for future planning. It doesn’t help anything right now. And the NBA getting an inordinate percentage of the tests isn’t right. It’s bad form for the NBA and suggests that the positive things the league and its players have done is a public-relations campaign, that when things get dicey, the players and the league are the priest and the Levite, not the Good Samaritan.