Deion Sanders, the new Jackson State coach, posted a maskless photo on his Instagram account gathered with former Dallas Cowboys star Nate Newton and others following an apparent dinner.
“Nothing like Dinner & Laughter,” said the caption accompanying the photo of the smiling group.
In much simpler and less perilous times, such an occasion would be no big deal. But in the age of COVID-19 — where health officials have advised against gathering indoors with anyone outside of your immediate household — the image of Sanders in that circumstance is troubling.
Preliminary research suggests that when people congregate indoors, an infected person is almost 20 times more likely to transmit the virus than if they were outside.
Americans have been asked to sacrifice so much during the course of the pandemic, including time with friends, birthday parties, attending sporting events and even visiting elderly family members.
At least for one year, we’ve been championed to give up celebrating holidays as usual and cease traveling for the greater good of our neighbors, loved ones and the sake of our currently overwhelmed healthcare system as doctors and nurses fight valiantly to handle the now devastating third wave of COVID-19.
“This is a dangerous time. We all need to adjust our behavior accordingly,” said Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. “We know that wearing masks works. We know that wearing masks helps prevent the transmission of the virus. We know that avoiding large social gatherings helps.”
This is not to chastise Sanders as habitually irresponsible, however. He often is photographed wearing the neck gaiter face-covering most everywhere he goes, particularly while coaching at Trinity Christian High School in Desoto, Texas. Sanders, on the other hand, is also seen in images and videos not masked up or practicing social distancing while in public or contributing for Barstool Sports and his “21st & Prime” podcast with Jamie Dukes.
On the surface, Sanders doesn’t appear to be a crazed anti-masker or one who believes any sort of restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 is akin to government tyranny and oppression.
Sanders, though, represents many well-meaning Americans who — without realizing it — unintentionally run afoul of various safety protocols or deem certain activities as low-risk. How citizens have been instructed to manage life in a pandemic is sometimes confounding and confusing. In some areas, restaurants, schools and bars aren’t deemed safe. Neither are casual indoor congregant settings.
But churches are open and athletic teams are allowed to travel all over the country for games despite the CDC discouraging non-essential trips.
It’s why Sanders might be comfortable meeting an old teammate to catch up or eat inside a restaurant with his crew. No one really knows when and where they will be exposed to coronavirus and what contracting ultimately means.
Some suggest that pointing out instances of non-masking or grouping is an unproductive practice, as individuals targeted might be unwilling to change their behavior.
The counter-argument lies in anyone taking liberties — regardless of the justification — could lead to unnecessary illness, death, and further compromise our ability to get back to life as we once understood it without the specter of death waiting at every Walmart.
But this is the predicament when the local and federal government abdicate sole responsibility on the shoulders of the public to navigate a once-in-a-lifetime disaster with little support.
The nitpicking and examination of social media posts aside, what should concern those connected to Sanders is the possibility that based on his many public interactions — and the unabated spread of COVID-19 — there is a real possibility he could contract or transmit the virus.
As of Friday, 21 college football head coaches have already tested positive for COVID-19. With the spring football season just a few months away for Jackson State and other programs that held off on playing in the fall, that number is unfortunately likely to rise as teams gather.
Let’s hope Sanders does not put himself in a position to add to the total.