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Madison’s Football Quandary: Self-Interest Or Public Interest?

September 16, 2020

There are clear tests being presented where an over-riding question is posed to the people, and the answer will reveal much about who we are at this point in time. Be it the presidential election or the soon to be played college football games, the question in both cases comes down to what is the character of the people, and how do we define ourselves?

It comes as no surprise to readers of Caffeinated Politics that from a public health perspective I oppose the decision by the Big Ten to start playing football in mid-October. The concern registered by medical professionals and our local Madison leaders all demonstrate why the relaxation by university officials is a most misguided one.

But now that the decision has been made there comes another hurdle to cross, namely how to curtail the football fans who think gathering in huge numbers and drinking is the only way to act on game day? I will let the words from a local news story featuring Samuel Brown, vice president of Rocky Rococo to place this matter into context. For the record I want to note that he is concerned about reopening his tailgate spot for football fans in the midst of a pandemic. 

“It’s almost overwhelming to think about how you would conduct a tailgate,” said Brown. 

Brown finds himself in a tough position as his businesses, like many others, could really use the revenue boost of hosting a tailgate for fans as COVID-19 continues to interrupt sales.

“On one hand if fans don’t show up, we lose out on the revenue and on the flip side, if they do show up, we have a lot of health concerns to worry about,” he said.

On the public health side of the equation comes the dread and concern form the likes of UW Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeff Pothof. He knows the very real likely outcome from huge tailgating events and the way drunken fans will act, thereby surely increasing the number of COVID-19 cases.

“COVID-19 is going to spread like wildfire through tailgating parties,” said Pothof.

Instead of packing tailgating lots and watching the game with family and friends, Pothof is advising residents to stay home and to avoid tailgates, along with bars and restaurants.

We will see this fall if science and data are a stronger pull on people than the urge to pretend all is normal during a pandemic, We will see if swigging and guzzling beer with football frenzy in the air is more important than caring for the health of our larger community.

And with the answer to that question we will know better how history will define not this moment, but rather define us in that moment of our national story. We know from the lessons of childhood, most taught by parents, that character tests are not easy. Wrangling with ethical answers means we dig deep and look within to see if the  self-interest or public interest is the real winner.

Readers to this site know a couple weeks ago I wrote about Calvin Coolidge and how he would have been a better-suited presidential visitor to Kenosha than what took place this summer. So with the conclusion to this post I submit a quote from Coolidge that resonates with where I stand on this public health matter and the role we play at this time.

Character is the only secure foundation of the state.”

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