April 19, 2020

Florida Wrestles With Stay At Home Rule

Florida Wrestles With Stay At Home Rule

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School is out for the year, but professional wrestling and going to the beach is in

Professional wrestling and other contact sports are encouraged now as essential services.

In my blog dated April 5th, I provided a lengthy explanation of Florida’s “stay at home” order dated April 1st, and the dozens of exceptions that apply for “essential services,” which include swimming, fishing, hiking, going to gun stores, and attending religious services. None of the above activities are required to be conducted with social distancing or any other hygienic rules.

President Trump has given Governors across the U.S. “a phased and deliberate approach” to restoring normal activity, but Florida seems to have taken one of the more extreme approaches despite DeSantis announcing on April 18th that K-12 students across the state will continue distance learning until the end of the school year.

On April 17, Governor DeSantis announced that some beaches and parks across Florida could reopen.  Jacksonville, which had experienced protests to return the area back to normal opened its beaches as April 17th with restricted hours, and they can only be used for walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing. The beaches are now open in Jacksonville from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.for those who are careful or don’t mind risking that they will catch the virus. We do now know if lifeguards and first responders will be used to help keep people distanced.

Curry explained that “this could be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” but encouraged residents to “be patient,” leading some to wonder whether Mayor Curry had been patient enough himself.

The Governor’s first addendum to the April 1st order was entered on April 9th to allow World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and other sporting organizations to hold live events that will be conducted without a live audience. This amendment was written by Jared Moskowits, the State Coordinating Officer, and it expands the definition of an “essential employee” to include mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and other urgent counseling employees as long as they comply with social distancing guidelines.

This same amendment also includes, “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience,” and they do not have to comply with the same social distancing requirements.[1] Some say that the addition of mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and other urgent counseling employees were only made to give cover for the real and sole reason for the update, which was to allow professional athletics to be permitted essential services, since the other items listed above seemed to already be on the list of essential services and were not stopped or interuppted as a practical matter.[2]

In defending this position, Governor DeSantis said, “we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, we are watching reruns from like the early 2000s.”[3] The Tampa Bay Times reported that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary reached out to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to express interest in hosting events in Florida rather than having the UFC purchase their own private islands for fights.[4] 

The WWE is now able to host events in their Performance Center in Orlando, provided they do not have a live audience. This is televised as an example to all Americans that it is acceptable for two adult individuals to make bodily contact in a way that will clearly spread the virus from one of them to the other because of close contact. Broadcasting these events also include risks to individuals who will be working together to facilitate preparation, filming, handling, laundry, and providing medical attention when performers may be injured.

I am a fan of wrestling and entertainment, and in particular of professional wrestlers, who have to be very talented, hardworking, and who put their bodies and their brains on the line for a significant risk of injury.  

It is unfortunate that professional wrestlers cannot take the path of Saturday Night Live and each appear separately from their home or condominium. Strippers have even accepted social distancing rules and are live streaming from Tampa.  Fishing and javelin throwing may be conducted in accordance with social distancing requirements, and set a better example for children who are being deprived of social contact with their friends and relatives, and who may immediately start wrestling when parents and other supervising adults are out of the room, but contact sports cannot. We may see a future where wrestling could be done by video or hologram interaction, but for now it seems as if Florida, as a result of this amendment, will become the safe haven for professional sports competitions during this era of social distancing.

The governor’s order reads as follows:

“Employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience – including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including service supporting such production – only if the location is closed to the public.”

On April 18, Governor DeSantis also talked about how the amendment will allow for the state to reopen businesses and other aspects of life throughout the state. DeSantis will be assembling a “task force” to tackle these issues on Monday, April 20th. The task force will be comprised of elected officials and individuals in the business industry who will “develop a three-stage approach to react to opening the state: short-term, medium-term and long term.” The task force is expected to make recommendations to Governor DeSantis by the end of the week.

Florida experienced its biggest single day jump yet, adding 1,413 new cases over 24 hours on April 17.[5] Total cases in Florida now exceed 25,000, while deaths exceed 750.[6]

While President Trump has reiterated that “every state is very different,” we hope that Governor DeSantis and the Mayor’s throughout the state of Florida recognize that the concerns are the same. COVID-19 has proven to be a dangerous pandemic that should not be underestimated.

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