Image courtesy of The Washington Post
By Garrett Farrell
As new cases of the coronavirus rise in all but a few states, many professional sports teams are reporting that standout players have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The alarming rise in cases among some of the world’s most prominent athletes may throw a wrench in the plans for resuming play in some of the country’s most popular sports leagues.
Major League Baseball seems to be the league that is most threatened by the rise in cases. League officials confirmed that 40 players and staff members tested positive for the virus. Reportedly, the MLB has closed all spring training sites for cleaning and will require that players and staff members test negative before they are allowed to return to workplaces.
Concerns over the spread of the virus are causing the MLB to consider the idea of a “bubble league” similar to the NBA and NHL, where teams would be isolated from the outside world to protect the health of players. While the MLB has reached an agreement with the players union regarding a return to play, questions still abound over what this season’s games will look like and whether or not fan attendance will be permitted.
While the National Football League is not under as much of a threat as the MLB, there are still teams that are being affected by the increase in cases of COVID-19, especially the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans. Last week the Cowboys announced that a number of players, including star running back Ezekiel Elliot, had been diagnosed with coronavirus. The Texans did not release the names of any infected players.
In addition to the new cases of the virus among players, players infected earlier in the pandemic include Denver Broncos defensive end Von Miller and Los Angeles Rams center Brian Allen. The increase in cases has led to Commissioner Roger Goodell releasing a series of guidelines that restrict facilities access, food service, and equipment usage in an attempt to prevent further spread of the disease among players.
The guidelines put forth by Goodell require teams to retain a cleaning staff which will clean the facilities regularly. In addition, the rules require that each team keep a store of medical supplies including N95 masks and face shields in the event that a player becomes symptomatic. The complete guidelines can be read here.
In addition to putting out the set of guidelines, the NFL has canceled the Hall of Fame game, the annual opening game of the NFL’s preseason. This year’s matchup would have been between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At least eight players for the National Basketball Association have recently tested positive for coronavirus, including players for the Indiana Pacers, the Sacramento Kings, and the Phoenix Suns. These diagnoses come several months after four of the starters for the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for the virus, including former league MVP Kevin Durant.
In spite of these new cases of COVID-19, the NBA’s season should not be in any danger; there is still more than a month for the players to recover, and the NBA is holding its games in an isolated bubble, meaning it is unlikely that these cases will lead to a serious challenge to the league’s reopening plan.
The National Hockey League has reported that out of 200 players tested for coronavirus, 11 players received a positive diagnosis. These diagnoses are extremely unlikely to affect the NHL’s return to play, largely because the time frame for the return is still up in the air at this point; however, Canada has approved the NHL’s plan for resuming play, meaning that Canadian cities can potentially serve as the hub cities for the NHL’s 24-team playoff format.
With COVID-19 new cases on the rise once again, it seems that there is more volatility than ever in plans for a return to play, especially considering that the number of new cases is rapidly increasing in Florida, where the remainder of the NBA’s season is set to be held. Ultimately, if an increase in new coronavirus cases continues, restrictions may be put in place for future seasons of professional sports as well.