This is supposed to be the month sports makes a big return to the playing fields. Major League Baseball teams reported to training camp last Friday. The NBA will soon have players report to Orlando. while the NHL is relocating to Canada, using the cities of Toronto and Edmonton as hub sites. Major League Soccer has games scheduled in their opening round tournament this week, which is also being held ini Orlando. Nashville SC was scheduled to play Chicago FC July 8. So on the surface it looks like things may slowly be getting back to normal. Only if you look closer, things are far from settled for any of these sports.
Nashville SC had to delay leaving for Orlando after one of its players tested positive for the coronavirus/COVID-19. It took almost two days, but they are now in Orlando But what happens once the games begin if another player gets the disease? Considering Florida is one of the states where cases have been spiking for two weeks, that possibility clearly exists MLS insists it has enough testing kits available to ensure that players are regularly checked, and they are cautiously optimistic that the first round can be completed without interruption.
The NBA has already had 16 players test positive prior to even opening the bubble in Orlando. A 100 page plus guide has been compiled detailing protocols, suggested behavior, rules for who will and won’t be allowed on site, etc. But there has been grumbling from some players about their freedom of movement being restricted. Avery Bradley is one of the high profile players who’ve opted out of playing citing family concerns. Dwight Howard at one point was suggesting doing the same, saying he was concerned that playing games would take attention away from the ongoing protests against police misconduct and systemic racism. But he has since changed his mind and is reporting.
The NBA also says it has plenty of testing kits available, and that players will be regularly tested before and after games, as well as officials and all support personnel. The league will have the 22 participating teams play eight-regular season games before the playoffs begin. The NHL is going straight to the playoffs, with teams currently practicing at home facilities before preparing to leave for Canada. They also feel confident that they can address any possible problems arising if players test positive. Both leagues say having a player test positive wouldn’t necessarily mean the season would shut down again, but if there were massive numbers infected, that possibility existed.
As per usual, MLB was having the most trouble. The Boston Red Sox had multiple players test positive upon reporting. But that wasn’t the worse news. Instead, the reigning American. League MVP Mike Trout said last Thursday he was considering not playing this season due to family concerns. It’s one thing for good but far from star caliber players like the Washington Nationals’ Ian Desmond to sit out the season. It’s something else when arguably the best player in the sport does so.
Any player who chooses not to report will not be paid, but there’s no price that can compensate for the loss of life. Players with senior citizens living with them or with pregnant wives are weighing the possibilities of either being away from them for weeks at a time, or getting the disease and later transmitting it to them. There remains so much that’s not known about the virus, and there are several observers who felt sports in general should take the year off
It’s instructive that in non-contact sports like auto racing and golf athletes are still getting the virus. Multiple NASCAR champion Jimmy Johnson, in his final season, has gotten it, while two of the top 10 golfers in the world had to bow out of a recent tournament after their caddies were infected. It’s an indication that the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is still very much with us, and that highly conditioned athletes aren’t immune to it. What impact it will have on the seasons of MLS, the NBA, NHL and MLB will be determined in the days and weeks ahead.