Wearing masks, leading by example

I heard a lot of grumbling about having to wear a mask and practice social distancing during the DEWALT Bassmaster Elite at Lake Eufaula earlier in June.

Granted, most of it was inside my own head. But still, I got tired of hearing it.

I had a bad claustrophobic experience once during an extra-long MRI prior to back surgery a few years ago and since then anything that makes me feel confined kind of freaks me out. It’s why I still lather up in sunscreen instead of wearing face coverings while fishing, and it’s why I haven’t been thrilled about this whole mask thing from the start.

During the tournament, I did what needed to be done — just like everyone else here at B.A.S.S. We did it first because it was the right thing to do. But just as importantly, we did it because we represent B.A.S.S. — and the fishing community has looked to our organization for more than half a century to determine just what the “right thing” really is.

Believe me, the world keeps an eye on what we’re doing.

When catch and release was first implemented for B.A.S.S. events during the early 1970s, most of the bass fishing world followed suit. Since then, millions of bass that were being put on stringers, tossed into coolers and filleted for dinner have been released to be caught again and make lots of little bass.

When rules were put in place requiring kill switches and life vests while the outboard was in use for B.A.S.S. tournaments, again the fishing community took note. Someone reading this column right now wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those practices.

So, when it came time to wear a mask while doing interviews backstage at Eufaula, I grumbled under my breath. I thought of all the reasons I might be able to get away with not doing it.

Then I manned up and put the damned mask on.

So did the on-site folks who make the Elite Series tournaments happen. So did B.A.S.S. Chairman, Chase Anderson. So did the anglers who want desperately to have their faces seen on camera when they’re weighing in a big bag live on Bassmaster.com.

Did it make us all safer? I’m not even going there.

I’m not a scientist, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how the social distancing guidelines came to be or whether this coronavirus we’re all guarding against can penetrate the plethora of masks now available that claim to block it.

I just know there are people smarter than me asking us to wear them — and that’s reason enough.

Imagine someone out there who’s in the high-risk category for COVID-19, but had been resisting the idea of wearing a mask. But after the tournament, they’re wearing one because they saw Scott Canterbury or Clark Wendlandt wearing one on stage.

Imagine more people wearing masks and practicing proper distancing during local tournaments because they saw Drew Benton and Drew Cook doing it with $100,000 at stake.

If you think it’s not possible, consider the examples above.

When we’ve finally moved back toward some semblance of normalcy, I don’t think there’s even the slightest chance we’ll view this whole mess as a good thing. But good things will have come from it.

I fished like a wild man throughout the pandemic shutdown in Alabama and went through several bottles of hand sanitizer. As I thought about it, I decided I’m gonna make that a permanent thing, even after we find a vaccine for COVID-19.

Seriously, you’ve been inside a marina bathroom before. Even after you wash your hands, you still have to grab the door handle to get out. At that point, hand sanitizer might be one of the most important tools in your tacklebox.

After wearing a face cover for a few days — and seeing how comfortable they’ve become since I swore them off years ago — I honestly think I could wear one again. Maybe I’ll save some dollars on the sunscreen that seems to leave the tops of my ears burned no matter how much I use.

Besides all of that, I spent a week covering an Elite Series event and never once felt the need to shave.

That’s a good way to approach this whole thing — looking for silver linings that never would have occurred to you three months ago.

And when you wonder why one of our guys is wearing a mask in a weigh-in photo from a tournament, know that part of the reason is because we knew you’d be looking at that photo.

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