Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
A citizen journalist’s first-hand take on a wild week in Tampa.
We knew going into Super Bowl weekend that the national media would try to dub the game as a “SuperSpreader” event, and discourage the city of Tampa from even hosting the game. A quick scan of mainstream media headlines this morning only provides the view of uninformed, triple-masked, New York bloggers shaming us from their basements. Which is why I felt compelled to give you an insider view of what this weekend was really like, and why we are single-handedly leading the nation out of the pandemic. Florida is not the problem, but the example for how the rest of the country should approach the coronavirus.
Colloquially, “Florida Man” often appears in national headlines as an affectionate roast of our eccentric population’s antics, and generally we deserve it as we definitely have some unique characters living within our borders. Even internationally, it’s safe to say that people think we’re all insane down in the Sunshine State. However, over the past few months as tourists and refugees have come here and witnessed how our Governor and State Legislature have threaded the needle of COVID restrictions and lockdowns, the tides are turning on our public perception amongst most rational human beings. Suddenly, Florida with our wacky population is quickly becoming the last frontier of normalcy in the country. There’s a reason why our four largest cities make every imaginable list for growth and migration you can find over the past three years, and that is amplified by 10X the longer that liberal cities continue to implement public policy derived from incapable tyrants.
Our local officials might be trying to downplay it, but The Super Bowl that was just hosted in Tampa, where I currently reside most of the year, had at least 100+ large, unsanctioned, well-advertised SuperBowl parties, and thousands upon thousands of gatherings around the region as people from all walks of life came together behind our now-beloved, Tom Brady and his Buccaneers. More people took to the streets last night than we ever came close to seeing for the BLM protests in Tampa. The last three days for many of us have been a dizzying array of non-stop events that I was lucky enough to attend several of, and even do a little bit of journalism-ing along the way.
Sports have always been where people can put their differences aside and for a few hours escape the problems in their everyday lives, and for a weekend that’s exactly what happened in Tampa Bay. While the mainstream media and Twitter continue to berate us for being irresponsible Superspreaders, the vast majority of Tampanians took to the streets, maskless and free like it was 2002 all over again. Barstool Sports and 50 Cent will go down in infamy for bucking the establishment and being the first people to host massive concerts coming out of the pandemic for event-starved fans. Those who feared COVID stayed home or hosted personal watch parties on their own volition as it should be, but anyone on the ground could tell you that the citizens of Tampa are sick and tired of draconian lockdown measures, which are much less prevalent here than most cities, and we’re not the only ones. This mainstream, fear-mongering, shut-it-down narrative may seem all encompassing, but a majority of the population isn’t buying it. All of the people I spoke to this weekend from out of town had the same general opinion; that their liberal big city was going too far with restrictions and that they wished it were more like Florida. An anonymous Bostonian told me, “When my friends got off the plane, it was like watching someone that had just been released from jail.” They gazed in astonishment as we Floridians took such incredible risks as eating food indoors and walking casually outside without our faces covered.
Tampa may be run by Democrats, but the general population here is still very moderate and mixed politically. Our locally elected officials often virtue signal to their base on national television, but in big moments such as this Super Bowl, Mayor Jane Castor handled the weekend as well as she could, by allowing us to celebrate. It seems as if the influencer of the NFL and international TV deals are too much to pass up even if it means upsetting the liberal base. I personally have been a major critic of our local leadership, even penning an open letter to them in March urging them not to shut down the city – which they promptly ignored.
However, given the immense pressure and alternative options being thrust onto our local leaders and the NFL to crack down on this weekend’s activities, the most that they did was implement an outdoor mask requirement, which was not enforced well. Personally, I am opposed to such an order, but if it means that we can continue on with our events here, even in limited capacity, let the mask fanatics feel better about themselves while the rest of us carry on with our lives. I have had to consistently remind my friends on the right, that it could be much worse…we could be Los Angeles.
Nonetheless, the people of Tampa regardless of race or political affiliation came together around the stadium, at bars, at clubs, at strip clubs, and at watch parties, proving that there is still a sense of community and collaboration, even in the United States if only for a fleeting moment. I will not name names to protect them from the Twitter mob, but many celebrities, rappers, and athletes embraced the fans and celebrated with the people of Tampa all weekend. People who kneeled for the anthem shared drinks with people who boycotted the NFL. People who voted for Trump danced on cars with people who participated in BLM protests. People who are ideologically on different sides of the spectrum came together in unison under the commonality of returning to normal.
Not a new-normal. Normal. And it was beautiful.
For every article that comes out of the next few months condemning how we operate in the State of Florida, for every terrible headline about Ron Desantis, and all of the concern over (scientifically manipulated) COVID case numbers, or new virus strains stemming from the Super Bowl, realize that the people of Florida don’t care. Even better, the country is starting to side with Floridians in their dissent. By all accounts, we even boo-ed the hell out of Joe Biden during his Presidential address before the game, because even if people didn’t like Trump, they sure don’t like Joe Biden either.
Not a poll in this country has gauged the true sentiment of the people, and that sentiment is that we are done with COVID. We are done with lockdowns, curfews, scare-tactics, and masks.
We’re really, really, done with masks.
There was so much love and electricity in the air down here that I am convinced Tampa will emerge from this pandemic like an angry phoenix full of hope and economic prosperity. However, it will not be because of our local elected officials, it will be in spite of them and their desires to mimic the public policies of New York and Detroit. It will be because of our Governor, Ron Desantis and his commitment to letting us live our lives, and for that he will be elected again in a landslide in 2022, even as the media continues to mark him as public enemy number one. It will be because of outspoken activists and business owners clamoring to operate and stay open as the rest of the world shut down. Maybe Florida Men like myself ARE a bit different than the rest of the country, and despite their best efforts we still won’t let those New Englanders take over our wonky culture no matter how much they come here in droves trying to escape their failed cities.
Did we wander around crowded bars maskless? Yes.
Did we climb street poles and hang from trees? Yes.
Did we ignore nearly every warning from the CDC and WHO? Yes, and it’s been like this here for the past 8 months.
So, the natural reaction is going to be for the media to blame a rise in case numbers anywhere in the country on our city, but they’re not going to get it because we’ve already altered the measurements for positive cases at a national level. You probably didn’t hear, but last month we went from counting every single positive test as a positive case, to requiring two positive tests and a clinical diagnosis to be counted as that same single positive case, per the CDC. Miraculously, case numbers are dropping in half in some states in a single day. COVID case numbers were already statistically manipulated, but since Joe Biden took office, the CDC manipulated them downward so that, soon he can be credited with ending the pandemic, even though he’s had literally no effect on any of it.
Regardless, even if you find this behavior reprehensible and are disgusted with my take on it all, you’ll find that our state’s COVID deaths are in-line or in many cases much better than the majority of the world, because there is no right way to navigate through an unprecedented pandemic; but there’s a wrong way, and unfortunately most cities chose the wrong way by overextending their authority to shut down all general life for their citizens, and I will never stop standing up for people’s Constitutional rights to make their own choices. Additionally, let’s be honest, if you were out partying in Tampa Bay this weekend, you’ve probably already had COVID at some point over the past year, so I have a hard time grasping just how long we need to keep up this facade of safety when a good portion of our population is already immune to the virus. “Facts don’t care about your feelings”, and Tampa will end up reaching herd immunity much before the rest of the nation, and it all starts in the streets of Ybor City and in the spaceship at 2001 Odyssey.
Therefore, I encourage the rest of the country to keep underestimating Florida, keep condemning our behavior, and keep making jokes at our expense, because when most cities around the world struggle to function and even go bankrupt through their colossal mistakes in 2020, we will have the last laugh as the only normal State left in the union—and it all started this weekend when we super-spreaded freedom all around Raymond James Stadium.
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