By Harry Posner ‘24, Staff Writer
The relationship between sports and COVID-19 has been a rocky one. While the various sports leagues have enacted safety measures to reduce COVID rates, all sports teams continue to engage in some questionable practices which have disrupted the standard routines in the sports world.
Back in March, nearly a week before New York City closed schools and non-essential businesses, the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) was the first professional sports league to indefinitely suspend gameplay after two players tested positive for COVID-19. With its playoffs, which usually occur in the spring, cancelled, the NBA was determined to finish its season and crown a new champion. The NBA worked with Disney to create a COVID-19 free bubble in which all players, coaches and team staff were restricted to Disney’s Orlando campus. The NBA had zero positive tests for the duration of the season’s restart. At the same time, the NBA recognized that keeping players isolated to a campus was unfair to players that would miss family milestones, such as the birth of a child, or, sadly, family passings, and developed protocols to enable players to travel home and safely return to the bubble. Players’ off-campus decisions quickly became public and were under scrutiny. Lou Williams, a guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, was pictured at an Atlanta club without wearing a mask. Despite explaining that he was “picking up food,” the NBA penalized Williams by increasing the procedures for rejoining the bubble.
Major League Baseball (“MLB”), which opened in late July, encountered many virus-related difficulties. Right off the bat, the Player’s Association made the controversial decision not to form a bubble-like space. Throughout the season, many players caught the virus, forcing the MLB to be flexible with postponing, canceling, and rescheduling games. Major outbreaks occurred in two teams that made the postseason: the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals. After the final game of the World Series, Justin Turner, the third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, sparked massive controversy. Before the game, Turner’s PCR COVID test came back inconclusive. Though inconclusive, he still played in the game and took a rapid test. The rapid test came back positive during the middle of the seventh inning, so the Dodgers removed him. When the game was over, Turner returned to the field for a celebration of his team’s win and sat next to manager David Roberts. Many were appalled by Turner’s dangerous action, especially since Roberts has a preexisting condition.
The National Football League (“NFL”) had the most time to prepare, as COVID-19 broke out during the NFL’s offseason. Like the MLB, the NFL refused to form a bubble, which has so far resulted in quite a few COVID outbreaks and facility shutdowns. At both the collegiate and professional levels, league offices have consistently fined coaches for not wearing masks (many coaches lower their masks during gameplan). Even among those who ordinarily wear masks, players, coaches, and staff members have contracted COVID-19. Trevor Lawrence, the starting quarterback for Clemson University, has worn a mask on the sidelines all season, yet still contracted COVID. Lawrence is likely to be the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The safety practices of fans are questionable as well. After Notre Dame’s win over Clemson, the fans in attendance stormed the field with few masks and minimal social distancing. At the pro level in the NFL, the amount of rescheduling due to COVID far exceeded anyone’s wildest imagination of what the season would look like. For instance, The Steelers had to move their bye-week, a week off in the NFL, to week four because of the Titans’ outbreak.
The combination of some leagues’ refusal to form a bubble, and the reckless behavior of players and staff not wearing masks, has caused unnecessary outbreaks for entire teams and disruptions to sports this year. Nevertheless, many players and coaches have acted responsibly and teams continue to navigate the schedule and play, allowing fans to enjoy sports despite this pandemic.