Hard as it is to believe, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero are less than two months away. NBC is putting the finishing touches on plans for a gazillion hours of coverage across a gaggle of networks. But there’s a potential snag: The network admits that a “handful” of staffers are declining the prestigious assignment. That includes “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie, pregnified with her second child.
What, y’all ain’t skeert of a few Brazilian skeeters, are you?
Well, some people are, and with the Zika virus going around, they have a right to be. One unidentified staffer told the New York Daily News: “It’s very simple. I have a family. I have small children and for me, at least, the trip seems too risky. I might want to get pregnant soon.”
NBC will be at the Games 2,000+ strong, everybody from Matt Lauer and Bob Costas to makeup artists and go-fers who fetch coffee. All must be considered brave, because this Zika stuff gets scarier by the day. At first health officials only talked in terms of pregnant women. Now there’s more. From the Daily News: “New research points to a possible connection to higher rates of Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults, a condition in which the immune system attacks nerves following an infection, causing muscle weakness and paralysis. In pregnant women, the virus can cause birth defects, including microcephaly – an abnormally small head and brain size.” Oh, and Zika can be transmitted to sexual partners.
Most Zika cases involve only a few days of flu-like symptoms. But even that’s a major concern if you’ve trained four years to compete an Olympic event.
The virus has already altered the sports landscape in a minor way. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins were scheduled to play two games in Puerto Rico at the end of May; those were moved back to Miami after the players’ union complained. Detroit Tigers pitcher Francisco Rodriguez caught the virus at home in Venezuela during the off-season. At first he thought it was a cold.
“It wasn’t a cold, trust me,” he told ESPN.com. “A cold, you have a sneeze, have a headache, take a couple of Tylenol and you’re done. You don’t have a body ache for two weeks, you don’t have headaches, throwing up, weaknesses for two weeks.” He reports that it took him two months to fully recover and advises Olympians to be cautious.
Pro golfer Rory McIlroy waffled about making the trip but now says he will play for the first Olympic medals offered in golf since 1904. Former Masters and PGA champ Vijay Singh has sent his regrets.
Olympic officials are studying techniques to protect athletes, including issuing more protective clothing. That won’t help during competition, and mosquitoes are attracted to sweat. Perhaps the fears are overblown and there will be few incidents. And if no members of the International Olympic Committee or other important poo-bahs are bitten, we’ll know there is professional courtesy among bloodsuckers.