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Musings from Arledge: COVID-19

There is no spring practice, which means there isn’t a lot to talk about when it comes to USC football.  But that’s okay.  Because the truth is there’s only one topic worth discussing at this point anyway.  When the entire world is on lockdown, it’s really hard to talk about much else.  And being that this lockdown has ended not just spring football, but also March Madness, the NBA, the NFL, English soccer, restaurants, bars, stores, and virtually every workplace in America.  We are on the verge of plunging into a new Great Depression.  And I have a couple of questions to ask, starting with one big one:

Has the whole world gone mad?

I’m not an infectious-disease expert.  Granted, my lack of expertise has never stopped me from speaking out on issues before, but those issues tend to be related to football and other matters that don’t involve life and death, so my ignorant musings are likely harmless.  COVID-19 is a matter of life and death, so I will try to tread more carefully. 

And I will start with a disclaimer, one that shouldn’t be necessary for any semi-sentient reader but one which I will give nonetheless: Do not rely on Musings for medical advice.  I claim expertise in only a few, distinct areas – namely, and in order of greater to lesser expertise, trying complex commercial lawsuits, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Beatles lyrics, Top Gun quotes, the late Roman Republic, and USC football (particularly how to attack USC’s coaches and administrators for their record-setting negligence).

If you’re taking advice from me on any other subject, do so with extreme caution.  Some amount of social distancing between you and my uninformed opinions is recommended.

Still, this is a republic, which means we have elected the president, senators, congressman, governors, state legislators, mayors, and other public officials who are calling the shots during this time of crisis – may God forgive us! – and we have to make decisions about our own work places, families, and other private institutions that can have lasting repercussions.  That means we need to understand as best we can what’s going on and think through the ramifications of it.

So I don’t have all the answers.  I may have none of the answers.  But I do have some questions to ask, because I think there are some things we should be thinking about, things we should be discussing.

Let’s start with the question most directly related to USC football: Why has USC’s spring football been cancelled?  Is it because of any substantial danger to the young, healthy men who play football at USC?  I don’t think so.  Yes, young, healthy athletes can be infected by the virus.  Ask Kevin Durant.  And they can certainly spread the virus.  But is the virus a substantial threat to them?  If it is, I haven’t seen any evidence to that effect.

Many, maybe most, of the young, healthy people that contract the virus apparently show no symptoms at all.  The four Nets players are good example of that, as three show no symptoms whatsoever, and the fourth is apparently doing just fine.   

And the data seems overwhelming that COVID-19 is extraordinarily unlikely to kill young, healthy people.  Check out this chart from the Korean CDC:

For some reason, this information is not making its way into the public, or the public is simply rejecting it.  Remarkably, millennials are more afraid of dying from the virus than are people over the age of 65 (57% to 47%).    This is insanity. 

Now I understand that cancelling spring football practices is a relatively minor thing.  As much as we all love USC football, whether our guys are practicing this March just doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  Indeed, based on the last few years, if every college football program is banned from practicing, that probably inures to USC’s benefit.  No practices anywhere might equal a comparative advantage for the Trojans.

But the USC spring practice is symptomatic of a larger problem.  In locking down large parts of our society – including young, healthy people who face very little risk – we are almost certainly plunging into a worldwide depression and the widespread pain, suffering, and fear that will come with it.  And maybe we have no choice.  Maybe these steps we’re taking are required and we all just have to bite the (remarkably painful) bullet.  Maybe.

But I wonder.  Remember, the people who are making these decisions – politicians, university presidents, doctors – are risk-averse and are, understandably deeply afraid of being blamed for a disaster.  And many of them, the politicians especially, aren’t particularly bright or intellectually curious.  (Too harsh?  Have you hung around with many politicians?  I have.  I stand by my generalization.)  And in election season, challengers have an incentive to blame incumbents for each and every death, and incumbents have a built-in incentive to prove to the whole world that they’re doing everything they can in the face of the crisis.  And this dynamic – Do something!  Something big!  And do it right now! – is likely to go great harm.

So let me ask a simple question: instead of locking down the whole country, would we be better served trying to protect those who are most vulnerable?  Why are we not locking down only senior citizens (and those who must interact with them daily) and those who are already sick and using our governmental and charitable resources to get those people the food, medicine, and other help they might need to survive the crisis? 

Because, look, there is no Keynesian solution to the coming economic crisis.  You can send checks to people, but sending checks doesn’t spur the economy when people are stuck in their homes and unable to spend the money.  And even if people have money, they cannot buy goods and services that are not being made, and if we send everybody home, there are vital goods and services that simply will not be produced.  And nothing we do – nothing – will bring back those business and jobs that are lost as a result of this crisis.  I’m talking about millions of jobs and many thousands of businesses.  

I think we’re headed for the cliff, people, and I really hope somebody hits the brakes in time.

I’m not alone.  Other people who (unlike me) might actually know something are also trying to sound the alarm

Now maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe the authors above are wrong.  Maybe a more-focused public quarantine of the type I propose would be a disaster.  But if so, can somebody please explain to the people of this country why this is so?  Can somebody actually stand up and tell us the truth about the risks, the options, and why it’s a good idea to force idleness and unproductiveness on people who are ordinarily highly productive and who are apparently not even at risk? Sorry for the detour.  I know this is a football site.  I look forward to the day when I can use this column simply to beat up on Clay Helton some more.  But right now, we have bigger problems than that.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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