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Sports and health threats: Seattle past and present

A man makes use of a hand-sanitizing station at CenturyLink Field prior to an MLS soccer match between the Seattle Sounders and the Chicago Fire, Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
A man makes use of a hand-sanitizing station at CenturyLink Field prior to an MLS soccer match between the Seattle Sounders and the Chicago Fire, Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Seattle.

With the novel coronavirus outbreak continuing to grow in the Seattle area, a lot of people are working from home and rethinking large public gatherings. Right now, Saturday night's soccer match between the Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew is still happening at CenturyLink Field. Fans who do attend will find additional hand sanitizer stations and cleaning wipes at concession stands.

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about how major health threats have impacted sports in our region — past and present. 


Thiel said sports provides us with a window into history. And the current coronavirus outbreak is not the first health threat in the Seattle area that disrupted normal life.

"In 1919, there was a remarkable series of events that occurred in Seattle during a pandemic of Spanish influenza," Thiel said.

Thiel says it disrupted the Stanley Cup finals, a hockey series between the Seattle Metropolitans and the Montreal Canadiens.

“The Canadiens came west and played a best of five series that ended up tied two wins apiece, plus a draw in Game 5,” he said. "Game 6 was scheduled here in Seattle.”

About noon the day of that game, Spanish influenza came back with a vengeance. There were 21 million globally who died, 700,000 in the U.S. and 1,600 in Seattle.

"The mayor of Seattle at the time closed all public events for quite a while,” Thiel said. That included Game 6 of the Stanley Cup. To this day, Thiel added, there's an asterisk; it says, “Seattle Metropolitans, Montreal Canadiens series not complete.”

"It was really a devastating disruption to the lives of many,” Theil said. “And ironically, here Seattle sits, the epicenter so far in the U.S. today of the coronavirus."


Thiel said sports is part of the rhythm of American cultural life — a symbol of normal routine.

"It's a way for us to experience normalcy,” he said. “And I think you can see what happens when there's a major event in American political, civic or cultural history — whether it's an assassination, a terrorist attack, a huge weather event — one of the first things that politicians, business and civic leaders want to do is to restore order by getting the games back on schedule.”


Thiel acknowledged the impact the coronavirus has had on sports gatherings in the Seattle area. And he said there could be more to come.

Among cancellations were the last two regular-season games for men’s and women’s basketball teams at Seattle University; the opposing teams declined to fly to the city to participate.

"We just have to see what's going to happen with the sports schedules because public gatherings are in the crosshairs of public health officials who say this may have to be curbed in order to curb the impacts of coronavirus," Thiel said.

In a related development late Thursday, NHL Seattle postponed the release of season-ticket prices and its seat selection process for this week and possibly next week. The Seattle Times reports it’s due to concerns fans may have over the coronavirus outbreak.

Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Sports With Art Thiel with iTunes or Google Play now. You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Sports with Art ThielSeattle SoundersCoronavirus CoverageCOVID-19
Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.