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Saturday July 11th, 2020 8:34PM

From the Hart: A sad first in my career

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

In my nearly 33 years of covering sports around the state and country -- harkening all the way back to my Red & Black days in Athens -- I finally encountered a first this past week. And it’s not something I thought I would ever experience.

I was told the press is not allowed, in any manner, from any distance, to cover a public sporting event. Specifically, high school practices as the Georgia High School Association and its member schools try to reignite the 2020-21 season.

In these unprecedented times, I certainly understand the need for precautions when it comes to viruses and the health and safety of not just individuals but society as a whole. Pandemics have a way of doing that.

But there does seem to be quite a few ambiguities and contradictions in how things are being handled by government agencies and what the public expects.

The press is the only private entity that is protected under the Constitution. As we sit here today, we are allowed to cover your usual -- and very public -- car accidents, government meetings, fires, murders, drownings, police manhunts, and now destructive riots involving thousands of people across multiple major cities in the United States.

We all know that we are currently under social distancing guidelines (though it's hard to tell from the visuals of many of the riots and protests of late). Some places make you stand in line. Many have limits on the number of people in the store. Some ask you to wear masks, some don't.

As a citizen, even in these unprecedented times of social distancing, here are just a few of the things I can do, with minor to no restrictions:

I can go to the grocery store.

I can go shop at big box stores.

I can hang out for a day in Helen with thousands of other people.

I can eat at restaurants.

I can go to the beach.

I can go hiking.

I can go camping. 

I can go swimming.

I can go canoeing, kayaking, rowing.

I can even go to a riot.

But as a journalist, I can’t go watch a high school football, softball, volleyball (name a sport) practice for fear of getting a school system in trouble to the tune of possible fines and maybe putting a coach's career in jeopardy. All because there would be ONE PERSON TOO MANY in an outdoor setting!!

As a rioter, I can taunt police, destroy property, assault people, and then, in many places, get set free the next day without having to pay bail. And then its wash, rinse, repeat the next day.

But again, as a journalist, I can’t go watch a high school football, softball, volleyball (name a sport) practice for fear of getting a school system in trouble to the tune of possible fines and maybe putting a coach's career in jeopardy. All because there would be ONE PERSON TOO MANY in an outdoor setting!!

There is something seriously and systemically wrong with this picture. It may seem that I'm being a whiny journalist because I can't go cover something. But I have not been allowed to cover something, ever, that did not first require having to obtain credentials. Preseason high school practice has never required a credential.

The very idea that any school system can get fined and a coach perhaps fired because there are one too many people at an outdoor practice in 85-degree weather is preposterous. All because a journalist would like to take pictures and/or video to show the world that we're getting back to normal.

That kind of thinking is just one of many things that is wrong with America, and much of the world, right now. If ever we needed sports in our cultural fabric, it is now. Journalists across the world are ready to bring the joy and excitement that we all have experienced in sports over the decades back to you.

Imagine the positive images that could wash over all of us in these darkest of times as we see teenagers toiling away to help provide just a sliver of hope to those that are looking for any sort of a sign that we're going to come out the other side okay.

Sports and those who cover it for a living can provide a path through that tunnel.

All we're asking is to let us.

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