Whitmer cautions about return of pro sports: 'We're going to watch it differently'

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order late last week that allows for the return of professional sports in the state. But she sounded a cautionary note while discussing that decision — one that won’t allow fans in attendance at games due to concerns about COVID-19 — during a radio interview Monday on 97.1 The Ticket.

“We’ve been talking with the MLB commissioner, we’ve talked to the head of NASCAR, we’ve spoken to the Pistons and the NBA, as well as the NFL and (commissioner) Roger Goodell,” Whitmer said on the Jamie and Stoney Show. “It’s really important that we resume some normalcy, but do it in a safe manner. I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, you’re gonna cancel sports.' I said, ‘C'mon, let’s keep our wits about us. I’m not gonna to cancel sports, but we’re going to watch it differently.’ And that’s for our safety. And maybe this is one season of doing it this way, but it’s the smart way to do it to keep the athletes safe, keep the sport going and give us the ability to enjoy it.”

Scenes like this at Comerica Park are highly unlikely this season because of the pandemic.

Whitmer has been consistent in her message about the return of sports this spring, making headlines back in May with her comments that there won’t be full stadiums again until there’s a vaccine.

"Some people don’t know, but my first passion in life was to be a sports broadcaster, so this is something that I recognize as an important part of our culture,” she said Monday. “We want it to continue, but we’re just going to have to observe it differently than we have before." 

Pro sports league are taking different avenues to resuming play, with the NBA and NHL planning to finish their seasons in hub cities while MLB and the NFL teams attempt to start their 2020 schedules in home stadiums. But with coronavirus case numbers spiking in various states across the country, that raises obvious concerns, particularly here in Michigan, one of the hardest-hit states this spring. The Tigers are set to report for a second spring training Wednesday, and the regular season is scheduled to start July 24.

“Any time people are traveling, especially between states and especially coming from a state that’s having such a massive outbreak like Florida is right now, we all have to be cautious,” Whitmer said. “So the MLB and the Tigers have a really thoughtful, evidence-based plan to keep people quarantined to ensure that they mitigate spread and test all their employees as well as the athletes.

"I think we can navigate this. We just have to be really smart and remember this virus hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is we’ve learned how to live with it better to protect ourselves, And that’s why we all have to keep our guard up. I see outbreaks happening in Michigan because people are letting their guard down. And that’s something that's really important, that every one of us masks up when we’re out and about, that we stay six feet apart, and remember, you’re always safer at home. Unless you need to go out, if you can stay home, that’s the best way to stay safe." 


Twitter: @JohnNiyo