All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and we are completing the wildest sports week of my life.

Honestly, I’m not sure there’s even a close second.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the Friday mailbag:

Brett writes:

“Sending in my Friday Mailbag question via email because I’m still at work and have to pretend I’m not scrolling through Twitter. As a history teacher to middle schoolers that are freaking out about Coronavirus, I’m trying to give them some context about this compared to other pandemics/panics throughout history. What say you on the matter? Where does this rank compared to other similar events from history?” 

When I was in college I studied abroad in London and we had a class focused on, not surprisingly, London literature. And one big part of that course dealt with the plague and its impact on European life, particularly in London.

The London plague occurred from 1665 to 1666 and killed one quarter of the entire London population over the course of 18 months.

A quarter of the population!

Just imagine what that would look like today, it’s unfathomable.

We read a book by Daniel Defoe about that time in London called, “A Journal of the Plague Year.” (It’s free to read online so you can easily assign a portion of it to your students.)

Sure, it’s over four hundred years old, but I think it’s important to point out, especially to young kids whose historical knowledge is often very minimal, that far worse things have occurred in history when it comes to pandemics and plagues than what is happening right now. And humans have always managed to persevere and survive, at least so far.

Right now in the United States 41 people are dead from the coronavirus and ten people are hospitalized in serious or critical condition. You can look at the daily updates here. (And I’d encourage you to share this with your class as well to provide context so they see that this is a global problem).

So far just over 5,000 people worldwide have died from the coronavirus.

Putting that number into context, 6,250 people die every hour around the world. So thus far in the months that this virus has existed it has killed less people than die in one hour on the planet.

That’s why I ultimately believe the United States will be fine — along with most industrialized nations — but what we haven’t seen much discussion about, at least so far, is what this virus will do when it reaches third world countries in Africa or Asia. It’s going to be debilitating if it spreads there because those countries have no medical facilities to speak of and will be unable to respond quickly to a rapidly spreading disease.

That’s the biggest issue, I believe, when it comes to this virus and it’s where most of the victims will be.

But based on what’s happened in China and South Korea, I think the United States will be fine. That’s why I wrote last week that I believed less than a thousand people will die of the coronavirus in our country. (I’m basing this on the fact that China had over 3,000 deaths and has four times our population.)

If China and South Korea have been able to shut down the spread of this virus after tens of thousands of infections in China and thousands of infections in South Korea than I’d like to think we could manage the same given our efforts to combat the disease are starting at a much earlier time.

Now if you want to take the opposite side you can argue that we’re poised to fall apart like Italy has, where presently there are 15,000 total cases and over a thousand deaths in their country. But Italy is roughly 1/6th of our size from a population perspective. So if you apply their outbreak on a per capita basis to the United States situation their outbreak is roughly 72x the size of ours right now.

In future years I suspect epidemiologists will consider this outbreak to be a gold mine of data because they will be able to study why some countries — Italy, for instance — fell apart while others — South Korea — managed their infections expertly and adroitly.

And that hopefully we’ll be able to use this data to help protect us from a future pandemic that might arise and be far more deadly and dangerous than the coronavirus is.

Jason writes:

“Is this the most impactful and historic week in sports history?”

You can certainly make that argument.

And if you did, I’d agree with you.

I believe, in fact, that you can make the argument Rudy Gobert’s illness is the second most impactful event in sports history. (The first would be Jackie Robinson integrating baseball).

Think about it, if Gobert doesn’t test positive for the coronavirus then I believe it’s likely every sport in America is still playing today, albeit likely without fans present. That standard of playing without fans present would have likely held until someone else tested positive for the virus, but who knows how long that might have taken? (Remember Gobert was planning on playing until he tested positive for the virus because he didn’t feel that poorly. How many other players would have played and not even been tested for an illness? And also remember that well over 80% of all people with the coronavirus have either very mild or nonexistent symptoms, meaning that many other players might well have had it, but never manifested any signs of illness so they would have continued to play).

It’s possible sports make have gone on for weeks or months in mostly empty stadiums and arenas. Especially since so far no one else has publicly announced they have tested positive for the coronavirus.

When you consider everything that happened as a result of Gobert’s positive test, it’s truly remarkable.

Even wilder, what if it were a false positive?!

Can you imagine if some guy incorrectly gave him the test resulting in a false positive and in reality he just had a cold? (I know Donovan Mitchell tested positive later too, but if Gobert had been negative there would have been no further tests).

It does seem fairly remarkable that so far the infection rate is roughly five per million people in the United States and in the NBA it’s 1 out of 225. (Gobert and Mitchell are 2 out of 450 NBA players). Either the rates of infection are wildly under reported in the United States or Gobert (or Mitchell — we don’t actually know which player infected the other) was just wildly unlucky to become infected. If the rates of infection are wildly under reported there are both positives and negatives associated with this. If the rate of infection is under reported it’s a positive because it tells us the death rate is much lower than thought with the coronavirus. But it if the rate is under reported then it also means the infections will continue because people who show no symptoms will infect many others.

Caleb writes:

“Earlier this basketball season, a buddy of mine bet me that Alabama would not make the NCAA Tournament. This was about mid-season and Bama was playing pretty good basketball with a win over Auburn and seemed to be finding their rhythm, so I agreed on the bet.  Fast forward to losing three out of our last four games, and our only chance to make the big dance was to play our way in by winning the SEC Tournament. I joked with him Wednesday night after the NBA suspended their season that if we don’t play Tennessee and can’t have our chance to win the SECT, then ultimately it’s a push and neither owes the other. Then it happened. All tournaments cancelled an hour before tipoff. He argues that there’s no way we would win it (he’s also a staunch believer that anything can happen in sports) and therefore I owe him.  I argue that a sportsbook would call it a push and refund your money since the games were cancelled and the team didn’t get their fair opportunity. Who’s right here?”

The bet’s a push.

Yes, he was in better position than you were to win the bet, but, as every gambler knows, the unlikely happens with somewhat regularity in sports.

Alabama was around a 20-1 underdog to win the SEC basketball tournament, which would have been the only way they got into the NCAA tournament. But the SEC tournament didn’t happen.

And the NCAA tournament didn’t happen either.

Which makes all futures bets, even if your team didn’t have a chance to make the tournament, void. It’s a push and a refund. (By the way, I’d think your buddy would have a better argument if Bama had lost before the SEC tournament was canceled. Because then there would be no chance Bama was in the NCAA tourney. But you’d still be able to rely on the fact the NCAA tournament field hadn’t been set. I think you’d have lost the bet if they’d released the NCAA tournament field, by the way, even if the tourney was then canceled because it would have been official that Bama wasn’t included).

Joe C. writes:

“How many years have you been a medical professional?”

This is the clapback I get from many on social media when I share facts (and my opinions resulting from those facts) about the coronavirus.

This, to me, seems like a clear attempt to silence people who are sharing information you don’t like. Everything I’ve shared about the coronavirus itself has been factually accurate.

My position is we shouldn’t be losing our minds over this virus and we are likely to emerge fine once warmer weather arrives.

As part of my opinion, I have shared all the factual data about the virus, including its current state of virulence in the country and the world. Again, that’s linked here.

You can certainly disagree with this opinion — which is rooted in a factual analysis of what has happened in countries like China and South Korea which have had much bigger outbreaks than we have and managed to contain the virus there — but why should having a medical degree be required to have an opinion on the coronavirus?

First, I could have a medical degree if I’d chosen to pursue that field of study. I certainly understand the idea that some people lack the mental faculties to adequately comprehend incredibly complex issues. But I have a law degree and a master’s degree from Vanderbilt. If I’d decided to go to medical school instead of to get my law degree and my master’s, I’d have a medical degree.

Second, just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean you are an expert in communicable diseases or epidemiology. There are many people who aren’t lawyers who have far more expertise in wills and trusts than I do. In fact, almost anyone who has ever gone through probate is more experienced than me because I’ve never practiced law in that area.

But even if you were an expert in these fields, experts in all fields are often wrong. Why? Because many experts herd in their opinions for fear of being excluded. Many fields don’t have substantial variety of opinions; as a result everyone falls victim to the same logical fallacies.

Using Outkick as an example, I have been more correct about the impact of cordcutting than most people who are experts in the cable and satellite industries. That’s not because I know more about the cable and satellite industries — I don’t, not even close — but it’s because I’m better at projecting consumer behavior when it came to cable and satellites than they were.

That’s why I’m a first amendment absolutist, I believe public discourse should be robust and uninhibited. People should be able to decide who they believe and they should have a large field of options to consider.

Having an opinion on the coronavirus, to me, isn’t very different than having an opinion on, say, the 2020 presidential race. I’ve never worked on a presidential race at a high level, but I think I’m pretty good at analyzing data as it arises and projecting where we might be headed.

That’s because before I go public with any opinion, I have generally spent hours and hours researching an issue.

I feel like I have read and studied much more than the average person about the coronavirus and so I’m comfortable sharing the most important facts and discussing where that might lead us.

I’ve found that most people consume content from individuals like me for three primary reasons: 1. they find it entertaining 2. they believe they are getting smarter/better informed as a result 3. they agree (or disagree) strongly with the opinions expressed.

Someone who has a good, and growing, audience ideally fulfills all three of these criteria on a daily basis.

Based on the numbers I see, my audience would just as soon see or listen to me talk about politics, Game of Thrones, or the coronavirus as they would SEC football. Now I initially made my name by writing about SEC football from the perspective of a Tennessee fan, but really SEC football is just one of many things that I’m opinionated about.

Back when I started writing about other SEC teams some Tennessee fans were upset at me.

I could have continued to only talk about Tennessee sports for the rest of my life and made a good living, but that would have been terribly boring to me. It would have also vastly limited my audience. So I quickly spread into SEC football, college football, and from there to opining on all sports.

Now I’m still from Nashville and I love talking about the teams I grew up with, but most of you reading this mailbag right now would have never heard of me if I stuck to that arena.

It’s certainly your right to only want me to, for instance, talk Tennessee Vols or talk SEC football because that’s where you initially found me, but the numbers don’t reflect that’s what the vast majority of my audience wants.

Much more importantly, it’s not what I want.

In fact, I hear from way more people who want me to talk politics and the coronavirus more and sports less than I do people who only want me to talk sports.

There are some people who are only opinionated in a narrowly defined window and make their living there; for better or worse I am not one of those people.

Travis Smith writes:

“Will you run for a major political office before you turn 58?”

I would bet yes.

I’m only forty right now so it’s hard to forecast the next (nearly) twenty years of my life, but my goal right now is to be filthy rich by fifty.

That means like $50 million+ rich. Once you get to that level you’ve attained generational wealth and no longer have to work for a living to live really, really well. (Some Barstool people took shots at me a few years ago for saying I expected to end up with $100 million+, but that’s always been my expectation once I hit 35 and saw the success of Outkick and the radio show. Why would I set my goals lower than this? I mean, Judge Judy makes $50 million a year, top people in sports media make $10 million+ a year, why wouldn’t I expect to bank $100 million in my lifelong career given that I’m only forty now?)

So if I hit $50 million+ by fifty, I can start to think about doing things in my professional life other than bank money. Maybe I’ll still love doing daily radio and daily TV well past the age of fifty — who knows what those industries will even look like then, by the way — but I tend to like new challenges.

And at some point I feel like I might age out of talking about who wins sporting events for five hours a day.

Maybe I won’t, maybe I will.

But as I move into my late 50’s my kids will be either in college or approaching the end of high school. I’ll suddenly have a ton of time in front of me because my kids won’t be as interested in me being involved in their life. That’s because they will have their own lives.

My wife put an end to any idea of running for office while our kids are still young. So I’d have to convince her to let me do it in the years ahead. Her position is pretty straightforward, we have a good life already, why mess with it? Especially when politics is likely to be nasty given how outspoken I am on everything.

But my argument is there’s no way politics is any nastier than what I do every day now.

Have you seen my mentions when a fan base gets mad at me? It can’t be any worse in politics.

So like I said, I’d bet yes if there was a line right now on whether I’d ever run for governor or senator in my life, but it’s hard to forecast that many years out in advance.

For right now I love all the jobs I have and I don’t see it changing very much for the next decade or so.

At fifty years old I will plan out the future a bit more, but at forty years old, I really like where I am.

John writes:

“What do you think cord cutting will look like when there are practically no sports on? Televised games are more or less the reason cable/satellite subscriptions are even holding on, right?”

It’s a great question.

I tend to believe that right now there are many sports fans who have been on the fence about cutting the cord because they want to watch sports programming. That is, they just can’t imagine giving up their daily games.

But if there are no sports on television for the next six or eight weeks and if you couple that with some degree of economic uncertainty — that is, people are looking at their 401ks and seeing how much they are down and others maybe aren’t as confident in their jobs as waiters or bartenders or construction workers because money being spent is drying up — then I think it’s likely cord cutting among sports fans would accelerate.

After all, if we’re heading into a coronavirus recession everyone will be trying to cut expenses.

Now the flip side to this argument is with the coronavirus and the 2020 election, news has never been higher rated and more sought after. So does that increased news demand cancel out the cordcutting from sports? Or are sports fans going to pivot to live news and continue to consume that at a higher rate, thereby canceling out their desire to save money?

The vibrancy of news may well help to cover up the decline in sports programming.

As with many things in life, we just don’t know.

Thanks for reading Outkick and I hope all of you have fantastic weekends.

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