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Big Cat Country Q&A: Will hosting the Republican National Convention affect the Jaguars ability to play football in 2020?


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Let’s answer some questions — this time with Nate Monroe over at The Florida Times-Union taking over the column for the week.

Today we’re talking the COVID-19 pandemic, local politics, state health guidelines, Jacksonville Jaguars football, and how they all intersect!

Bill from Jacksonville, FL

Q: In light of the pandemic, is it safe to say Lot J is on hold...for a while? Also, when will my San Marco Publix be built?

A: First, on the San Marco Publix: That’s easy. Never. (Not really. The developers told our friends at the Daily Record back in May they hope to file plans on the site later this year, but I’m on a strict believe-it-when-I-see-it posture with that project).

On Lot J: It’s hard to see how the timeline on Lot J isn’t affected in some way by the pandemic, both from the private and public standpoints. I have a hard time imagining Shad Khan and Cordish (mostly Cordish) feel comfortable at this uncertain time moving forward on an entertainment center that will be financially dependent upon mass gatherings of people. Similarly, I don’t see why there needs to be much urgency on the part of the city to commit the $233 million in public subsidies the project will require - at least in the upcoming fiscal year. There will be no shortage of neighborhood and quality-of-life needs for the city to address in the coming years coupled with a bleak-to-uncertain financial picture for the foreseeable future.

Having said that, I’m also willing to bet Shad would be just fine locking down those millions in public subsidies sooner rather than later. Why wouldn’t he want that? And not coincidentally I’ve heard through the grapevine the Jaguars are still working the mayor’s office on including at least some funding into next year’s budget for Lot J (which comes out this summer). What Khan should do is volunteer a year or more delay on the taxpayer subsidies. But I wouldn’t bet on that outcome.

Nick from Jacksonville, FL

Q: Why is the NFL being so divisive with a Black National Anthem?

A: Others have written about this more eloquently and with more knowledge than I can hope to offer, but I will say this: The NFL’s complicity in the coarsening of our national dialogue around race and policing really can’t be overstated. The organization refused to stand by Colin Kaepernick — refused to acknowledge his gesture was not meant to disrespect the flag — and then the owners blackballed him. This amounted to a tacit endorsement of the cynical, bad-faith interpretation of Kaepernick’s protest - the interpretation the president has promoted to his followers and believed by many Americans.

So it’s nice the NFL is reversing course now on at least a symbolic level, but that’s not enough. And unfortunately the NFL is too often an organization eager to embrace symbolism but more reluctant to take real action.

Al from Jacksonville, FL

Q: If there are fewer (or no) games this season, how much of that responsibility falls on the federal government, the state government, and the local government?

A: The failure to contain this virus most certainly rests chiefly at the federal level. The president essentially disclaimed all responsibility and left it to the states and cities to figure things out. From that moment on it was a guarantee we’d be left with a recovery that was unequal, uneven and (seemingly) unending.

It could well be that even with a perfect pandemic response mass gatherings in the fall would be difficult, but the state we’re in now — where it’s uncertain even games without fans can really happen — well, you can blame the feds for that.

Jack from Jacksonville, FL

Q: Any chance the NFL season isn’t played at all in 2020 due to COVID? What would that mean for player salaries, years left on contract, etc...?

A: There is absolutely a chance the NFL doesn’t have a season. I can’t blame them for trying to make it happen. But sports organizations are already finding how hard it is to navigate not only the patchwork of differing local regulations from state to state and — in some cases — from city to city, but also that containing small outbreaks takes time and manpower. Not unlike first responders, if one person is exposed, and that person interacts with others, all of them need to isolate for 14 days and take repeated tests. This can become an exponential logistical problem.

Sometimes being a newspaper columnist means knowing when you’re overmatched: The constellation of financial issues with salaries, caps and contracts is way over my head.

Danny from Marianna, FL

Q: What would it take for Gardner Minshew to get a Pat Mahomes like contract?

A: lol

Mark from Terre Haute, In

Q: I’m headed down to Duval for the Week 1 home opener. In your opinion, what’s the likelihood of not even having a Week 1 or a delayed start? And what’s the expectation of the “new norm” for stadium life going to look like this season? Does it look like, at least early on, that there could be no attendance allowed at the games? Or maybe 25 to 50 percent?

A: As Big Cat Country reported this week, some teams are already moving in the direction of limiting attendance at games to a few thousand fans. So I’d say that’s a realistic expectation.

What makes these predictions about seasons tough is that COVID-19 is affecting different cities in different ways. Eight weeks ago you might have thought Jacksonville, and Florida generally, would be the sort of place you’d see at least some limited professional sports later this year. Now? We just reported almost 600 new cases in Thursday’s data dump, with a 20 percent positive rate — so one in every five people had the virus in that batch of tests. I think everything is an open question at the moment.

Keith from Jacksonville, FL

Q: Assuming there is a season with fans which is far from certain, have the Jaguars announced how they will prioritize attendance? They always seem to have a core season ticket holder attendance of 40,000-ish. Let’s say because of social distancing, they can only allow 15,000 in. In that case, have they announced which of the season ticket holders get priority? Would it be by seniority? By price of ticket? Location?

A: The Jaguars have not made any of those announcements to my knowledge.

Paul from Orlando, FL

Q: The Jaguars fortunately have a name/mascot that isn’t offensive, but just for fun, what would you choose as a new name/mascot if the team were to decide to change it? And what would you suggest for the Washington team?

A: So, confession: I’m a Saints fan (I grew up just outside New Orleans). But I also love the team name because it speaks to something essential to the city’s identity — a Catholic bastion of the Deep South, which has shaped the city in a lot of ways. I’d definitely gravitate toward similar ideas for Jacksonville. I’ve come around on the Jumbo Shrimp, but I wasn’t thrilled with it initially because a lot of coastal cities can claim that. It’s also worth considering a name that acknowledges or honors parts of our city’s history that have been too long neglected, like the contributions of our Black residents. As for specific suggestions — well, that’s getting awfully close to offering an actual solution, and you know what they say about columnists: All we do is complain.

As for Washington, I just don’t know enough about the place to offer a good alternative. I’m eager to see what creative minds come up with.

Jonathan-Phillip from Jacksonville, FL

Q: How will the City of Jacksonville and the Jaguars organization handle personnel surrounding the stadium on game day if the season moves forward? Will there be a more limited approach to security or will it be the same?

A: I’m assuming they’ll have to abide by the same distancing and mask requirements in place for the rest of the city. As for what those will be, that’s anyone’s guess at this point.

Tom from Jacksonville, FL

Q: Am I supposed to place my question here? The box says “your answer” but I’m here to ask questions not answer them. I’m not doing your job.

A: Ryan, quit playing games.

Ben from Jacksonville, FL

Q: How will hosting the RNC affect the chances the Jaguars have a safe city and stadium to play in this year?

A: That’s a good question, but it’s unfortunately impossible to know the answer. There are reports Tulsa has seen a “surge” in COVID-19 cases following Trump’s speech there two weeks ago. No matter what happens between now and late August, COVID-19 will be with us through the RNC and after, and so the risks inherent in Jacksonville hosting the RNC — assuming we go through with plans to allow thousands of delegates to rally indoors at the arena — are pretty obvious. I think anything that sets us back in terms of slowing the spread of the virus imperils our chances at having a safe season, and perhaps a season at all.

David from York, PA

Q: Who do you think will have a breakout year on offense and defense in 2020?

A: I’m a cynic, but I’m not quite a total asshole: Here’s hoping Minshew makes it happen.