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Graney: Coronavirus case shouldn’t cause NFL to cancel draft

Updated March 5, 2020 - 7:00 pm

The first case of coronavirus in Southern Nevada was confirmed Thursday, calling into question what major events might be canceled or postponed across Las Vegas.

And in the world of sports, nothing in the near future is more major than the NFL draft.

All of which creates a delicate balance: Weighing the concern for public health against the show must go on ethos of Las Vegas.

After all, this is the town’s maiden voyage hosting a draft, scheduled for April 23-25 at various locations on and around the Strip.

Some estimate more than 600,000 will attend the annual three-day party to watch and cheer and sometimes boo the selections of the 32 teams.

Think about that. We’re talking crowds over the entire draft that could account for three New Year’s Eve celebrations.

That’s a whole lot of NFL fans in close proximity breathing on one another.

So wondering whether the NFL should consider canceling the draft isn’t only the right thing to do, but also the responsible one. The idea of a red carpet at the fountains of Bellagio and players hearing their names called next to Caesars Forum is unquestionably glitzy.

But there are still more questions than answers regarding the virus. Still much mystery to it. Already, a handful of conventions and business events scheduled for Las Vegas over the next few months have been cancelled.

That’s understandable. This thing has a lot of people freaked out.

But we also need to keep in mind that we are a nation prone to panic and extremism. Just watch those making like Kyle Busch when shoving shopping carts past others to purchase toilet paper and bottled water in bulk.

But the truth is that, across the entire United States, as of late Thursday afternoon, there were 233 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Meaning, while the numbers show there are now 17 times as many new infections outside China (where the virus originated) as in it, the time for a U.S.-wide quarantine isn’t soon. Probably never.

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You’re safe for now with just 10 rolls of paper towels.

This is also Las Vegas, where large gatherings are as common as comedy acts. Casino stocks fell sharply and gaming companies dropped as much as 14 percent following the local case being announced. But be assured there are still a whole lot of folks sitting around those tables across the city.

The idea that someone unknowingly infected from, say, Washington state or California, could arrive here in April for countless reasons other than attending the draft is hardly far-fetched.

A man in his 50s is said to be the case in Clark County. He reportedly had traveled to Washington state and Texas before arriving here.

Translation: Short of suspending all flights into Las Vegas — bit of a long shot at this point, no? — figuring out who are draft visitors compared to those who couldn’t tell Joe Burrow from Joe Jonas is beyond impractical.

You know, other than for those wearing jerseys while two-fisting a couple Bud Lights.

Full speed ahead

The NFL on Thursday said there are no plans to cancel the draft. Yet it did say it was monitoring developments closely. The draft host city hasn’t been determined for 2022, but it appears the league hasn’t given thought to trading Las Vegas as a site now for then. It shouldn’t. Not yet.

Voice messages left for both Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications, weren’t returned.

I would assume, however, they would relay a similar message as the NFL.

It’s also the correct one for early March.

I attended the draft last year in Nashville, and from the banks of the Cumberland River to the length of Lower Broadway, there wasn’t a speck of space not inhabited by a cheering fan.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, thousands upon thousands celebrated.

That will be the scene — maybe even more so — awaiting Las Vegas in April.

Italy, hit harder by the virus than any other European country, has announced all sporting events through April 3 will be played behind closed doors. That makes all the sense in the world given the death toll there.

And if this is Nome, Alaska, hardly a budding tourism capital, then cancel the draft.

But it’s not. It’s Las Vegas. The epicenter of visitation.

People aren’t going to stop coming just because a draft is canceled.

For now, education about the virus continues to be the most critical of responses. There can’t be enough of it.

But if the ultimate choice is to cancel an NFL draft, then turn out the lights to the entire city and everyone stay home and lock the doors.

It’s not time for that. Not close, really.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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