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Fight the Power: We need better leaders during this COVID-19 crisis

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SC Gov. Henry McMaster COVID-19 press conference March 9 (copy) (copy) (copy)

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster speaks at a press conference on Monday, March 9, 2020.

This has to be the worst season ever for the NBA. Between the league getting in hot water with China when Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey issued comments that supported Hong Kong protesters, former league Commissioner David Stern dying, Kobe Bryant and his daughter dying suddenly in a helicopter crash, and now suspending play because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Commissioner Adam Silver has his plate full.

But he’s still doing better than some other so-called leaders.

As soon as an NBA player (now two) tested positive for the virus, Silver immediately shut down all league games. Yes, billionaire owners are going to be angry and fans are going to have to figure out what to do when the playoffs aren’t on, but Silver’s quick decision was the right one because he put the people before commerce. He was a leader.

Unfortunately for the state of South Carolina, we are once again the butt of jokes in national outlets because of the comments Gov. Henry McMaster has made in the wake of the World Health Organization-certified pandemic.

In his Southern-fried drawl, he read from a sheet with a nonchalant approach during a March 11 press conference at the Statehouse addressing the virus. He stated that large events, schools and government buildings should stay open and in a sing-song tone, repeated that people should “cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze” as if that is all that’s required to fix the situation.

He said there remains no cause for public alarm in South Carolina, enthusiastically reporting that he would still attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Greenville (which has since been postponed).

The most alarming part of the press conference came when he was asked if the State House, which has a steady flow of traffic with workers and tours, wouldn’t implement any additional precautions or warnings in response to the virus. “At this point, I don’t think signs need to go up,” he said, with a slight chuckle. “I think everybody knows the coronavirus is in our state as it is in other states.”

This apparent downplay of concerns about the virus is dangerous. When the public is looking for information about a crisis, a person in such a leadership position is an avatar for the rest of us. If he goes around like it’s no big deal, then the public will follow.

It’s similar to President Trump dismissing the virus with false equivalency in recent weeks, comparing it to the flu, or claiming, as he did during a press event on March 6, “Anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there, they have the tests, and the tests are beautiful.”

First of all, that’s not true. And secondly, how the hell are tests beautiful? This form of misinformation and glibness is harmful, and seems motivated by two things: politics and money.

Fox News is constantly arguing that the left is making the pandemic sound worse to embarrass the president in his re-election bid, and several times during our governor’s speech, he mentioned the financial impact of these events that he urged not be canceled.

At what point does human life become more valuable than the bottom line? Unfortunately, crisis brings out the true colors. And not just in McMaster and Trump.

It was disappointing to see some college basketball conferences, which claim to have amateur players, still attempt to play games even after the NBA, the professional league, stopped competition. It seemed that college ball finally did the right thing — with conferences canceling their own post-season tournaments before the NCAA finally nixed its men’s and women’s championships late Thursday afternoon — because they were shamed into doing so. Yes, March Madness generates a butt-load of money. But if you’re gonna keep screaming that you care about these kids, you better start proving it.

So let’s try something. Let’s not think about dough or politics. Let’s try a radical idea and listen to professionals who study science and medicine. Political pundits may sound great, but most of them don’t have an MD attached to their names.

Let’s give this crisis the respect it deserves. Don’t play around with this. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert made light of COVID-19 during a press conference, jokingly touching all the microphones in the room to prove that he wasn’t scared. Two days later, he was the first NBA player to test positive for the virus — but not before possibly passing it to another teammate, who later also tested positive.

This is not a hoax. The official greeting when you see me will be a shoe bump — like the Kid ‘n Play dance — until further notice.

Preach Jacobs is a musician, artist and activist and founder of Cola-Con and indie label Sounds Familiar Records. You can hear his podcasts and read more work at FightThePower.co.

Preach Jacobs is a musician, artist and activist and founder of Cola-Con and indie label Sounds Familiar Records. You can hear his podcasts and read more work at FightThePower.co. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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