WWE giving NBA, Orlando Magic a path to return

Orlando has long been home to WWE performances even now during the pandemic. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images)
Orlando has long been home to WWE performances even now during the pandemic. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images) /

Florida has determined sporting events, like WWE, are essential businesses and exempt from their stay-at-home order. It opens a path for the NBA to return.

Monday afternoon, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings met with the media to provide some good news.

It appeared the curve in Orange County was beginning to flatten and there was at least some positive sign for the fight against the coronavirus and COVID-19.

It is not time to let up or change social distancing guidelines. It is a small celebration, but not the time to return to normal. That will come in the next weeks and maybe months as they make sure the virus has run its course and petered completely out. We are all still in this together.

A question came up though that asked about one specific thing that still felt normal — comparatively at least — and why it was allowed to continue.

The WWE announced late last week it would continue producing live — or close to live — productions of its weekly television shows at the WWE Performance Center in Winter Park, just outside Orlando in Orange County.

With the state currently under a stay-home order, closing all non-essential businesses, it seems odd to see WWE allowed to continue to operate. Especially considering the business it is in.

But Mayor Jerry Demings assured the public that, after some discussion with Governor Ron DeSantis, WWE was deemed an essential business under the state’s stay-home order. WWE could continue to operate.

Mayor Demings issued a clarification Tuesday it was the state and not the county’s decision to allow WWE to continue operating:

According to a memo, the state considers professional sports and media production with a national audience are considered essential businesses only if the facility they use is closed to the public. DeSantis reportedly told ESPN these events are essential to Florida’s economy.

There are a lot of politics involved in all of this that talk to the larger response to the coronavirus. This decision is certainly open to criticism — both at the state and local level — even with every precaution WWE is taking.

There have been and will be no fans in attendance at the Performance Center. That is the bare minimum to stay open under the state’s guidelines (it should be noted, WWE’s main competition in AEW is also producing shows still on closed sets in Jacksonville).

Still, the very act of wrestling is uncomfortable to watch in a time of social distancing. Watching men and women with their skin exposed grappling and working in close proximity in a physical performance goes against just about everything the medical professionals are telling us to do in our daily lives.

Traditional sports leagues like the NBA are obviously being a bit more cautious. WWE is obviously not a traditional sports league and they fall more under entertainment than sports in a lot of ways.

The traditional sports leagues have remained shut down and are planning for their return, but only when medical professionals give them the clearance it is OK to do so.

The discussions among the NBA’s owners appear to be how to safely come back.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

And this is where the league should have its close eyes on what WWE is doing. They should be watching to see and should be asking how WWE is keeping its performers safe and healthy while traveling from out of state to their facility. They should be asking how the promotion is keeping its facility clean and what standards it has put in place.

These are at least part of the foundations of safe practices for when the league returns.

At this point, the league should be soliciting and examining ideas from everywhere it can find. It would benefit the entire sports world to lean on each other’s expertise and experience to find their way forward.

But it will not be easy. There will be mistakes along the way. And the important thing is not to let those false starts become much worse.

During the weekend, WWE announced one of its on-air talents came down with COVID-19 but assured they were not in contact with any of the performers or put anyone in danger. This was exactly what prompted the NBA to shut itself down.

WWE’s show is continuing to go on nonetheless.

There is a very real and needed debate about whether the state is right to allow WWE to continue its performance. But the door is clearly open from Florida at least for sports to return when they are ready.

WWE is providing at least a road map on how sports can return (again, at least in Florida). They are going to end up being the guinea pigs and test case for how sports can return. It is a test case for how the world can get back to sports. Even on a small scale.

It is clear Florida right now will demand games be played in empty stadiums. So a team like the Orlando Magic would not be able to return until the Amway Center is no longer needed as a medical storage facility for Advent Health since arenas have to be closed completely to the public. That is unless the Magic find an alternate venue.

The NBA is not there yet. It will not be there for some time. Nor should it be until the virus is under control. At that point, the NBA can feel comfortable allowing players to come into contact with each other, let alone playing games.

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But they will have some experience to draw from.