Whitley: Masks are coming off, and Florida sports fans are breathing sigh of relief

Tom Brady and Tim Tebow were among the 15,000 fans who showed up for UFC 261 in Jacksonville.

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
  • A sellout crowd showed up for the first full-capacity indoor sports event since last March.
  • The state math competition didn't get as much attention as the fights, but Buchholz kicked butt.
  • If you want to set a school record in the 800 meters, do not attempt it in Oregon.
  • Which is more expensive - Kanye West's shoes or a 575-diamond ring?

Before we ponder why a used pair of sneakers cost more than a 575-diamond ring, allow me to observe how lucky sports fans are to live in Florida.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Weather, six major pro teams (I'm not counting the Magic, the MLS or any team in the American Cornhole League) and excellent sports writing available at incredibly cheap prices at Gainesville.com.

Now we can add one more:

Sports fans in Florida can actually attend sports events.

That became glaringly clear over the weekend when 15,259 fans packed the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville for UFC 261. It was the first full-capacity indoor sports event in the U.S. since COVID-19 erupted last March.

"I know a lot of you guys in the media don’t feel exactly the way I do about a lot of things," UFC president Dana White said in the post-fight news conference. "But you can’t deny it felt pretty (bleeping) good to be in Florida this week and be normal.”

It's not just media guys. A lot of scientists feel cramming 15,000 people into an arena might be too risky.

I'll leave that debate to White and Dr. Anthony Fauci. The point is that unlike a lot of places, Florida is increasingly offering freedom of choice.

Football stadiums are expecting to have full capacity this fall. The Florida Legislature is considering a bill that would ban businesses from requiring customers from having to show proof they've been vaccinated.

If you think that's crazy, you have the option of staying home or showing up in a mask or hazmat suit. If you want to go to an event, you can show up and party like it's 1999 or 2019.

Either way, I'd rather live in Florida than ...

Oregon!

That state requires high school athletes to wear masks while competing — including distance runners. That deprives athletes of oxygen, which has been known to come in handy during athletic competition.

A girl running the 800 meters passed out last week in Bend, Oregon. At least she collapsed across the finish line, so she still set a school record. Her coach was incensed at the state's mask police.

"I would like those people to come out and run an 800 with a mask on," Dave Turnbull told the Bend Bulletin.

Dud of the Week —The European Super League. The proposed soccer version of the Power Five conference disintegrated about 36 hours after it was unveiled. Word is that Vince McMahon may try to bring it back as a spring league. ...

Stud of the Week — The Buchholz High math team, which won the state competition for the 13th time in 16 years. Competitors wore masks, though thankfully none passed out at the finish line. ...

The Kentucky Derby is Saturday. My advice is to bet on the brown horse. ...

Bling Alert — The Lighting unveiled their NHL championship rings last week. Jewelers at Jostens somehow managed to affix 575 diamonds and 81 sapphires onto each ring, which are roughly the size of a hockey puck.

No word on how much they cost, but Jostens is offering fans 77 rings that have a mere 225 diamonds. List price — $12,928.

The cheapest Stanley Cup memorabilia is a keychain made of "non-precious materials." You can buy one for a mere $29. ...

Bling Alert II — A pair of prototype Nikes that Kanye West wore at the 2008 Grammys sold at a Sotheby's auction for $1.8 million. That broke the shoe record of $560,000 someone with too much money paid last year for a pair of 1985 Air Jordans worn by M.J. himself.

In related news, I bought a pair of Goodfellow & Co. slip-on sneakers at Target for $19.99. ...

Spotted at UFC 261 — Tom Brady and Tim Tebow. Neither was wearing a mask, though Brady reportedly ordered the vegan nachos with Brussels sprout flakes. ...

Vaccine Update — Given the mood in the legislature, it's unlikely state schools will require students to be vaccinated in order to return to class. So if a student-athlete refused the vaccine, will he or she be allowed to participate?

It's too early to know, but Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said about 65% of the school's athlete population was vaccinated in the first week the shots were available. ...

Question for the College Football Playoff Committee — If Alabama plays Oregon in the title game, will the Crimson Tide players have to wear masks? ...

Question for Sotheby's — If a Kardashian comes with Kanye West's shoes, does the buyer get a discount? ...

Question for Dan Mullen and Kirby Smart — Can y'all do anything to keep Alabama from making this year's College Football Playoff? ...

Dud of the Week II — The NFL, which changed the rules dictating which numbers players can wear. That's fine, but if a player wants to switch he'll have to buy all remaining Fanatics inventory of unsold jerseys with his current number — at retail cost.

Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook was going to switch from 33 to 4, which he wore at FSU. Then he found out it would cost him $1.5 million.

If that's the policy, shouldn't teams have to pay for all unsold jerseys when they trade a player? ...

Racing Update — Horses have threatened to boycott this year's Oregon Derby after learning they will be required to wear masks for the 1.5-mile race.

That's it for this week's collection of non-precious material. Again, more outstanding journalism is available at Gainesville.com.

Sadly, the gift shop is out of commemorative "Whitley's Believe It or Not" championship rings. But we will gladly sell you a keychain for $29.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley