Here’s how pro sports leagues are dealing with COVID-19

Illustration by Monte

This time of year usually represents a wide variety of emotions. Colleges around the country are just starting their semesters, the NFL season is getting ready to kick off and college football is dazzling millions with unexpected upsets. The marvelous cycle of American sports treats us well, continually providing an unmatched means for us to joist our jovial spirits, underlying anger problems and gambling addictions into something we all love. 

Taking COVID-19 into consideration, sports teams have been forced to take a different approach, redefining how players and fans experience the games they love. For the MLS and NBA, that means creating a completely and utterly socially restrictive bubble, one that sends players to their hotel rooms after every game. 

As the sports world looks to move on, many are still asking the question: Should sports be played in 2020? Last month, The Signal’s sports editor wrote an article answering the question with a resounding “no.”

While the thoughts of that article are certainly shared by many, it does not seem that the sporting industry’s goliaths share this same position, which brings a new question: What now? 

For months, we have heard the statements from every sports league assuring their fans that the players’ health and safety will be a top priority, but can they back it up? 

The NBA has administered thousands of COVID-19 tests since the resumption of play in Orlando, and come back with zero positive cases. The league recently announced that no positive cases for COVID-19 had been returned for the fifth consecutive week. 

The San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who is no stranger to criticizing the league, praised commissioner Adam Silver and his handling of these unprecedented times. 

“There’s absolutely no doubt that the NBA, under the leadership of Adam Silver, has done a magnificent job with being visionaries, looking at the big picture and looking at what unintended consequences may appear,” Popovich said.

The MLS has also shared similar results with its testing. The league held a tournament-style competition in Orlando that implemented the NBA’s “bubble” technique. Before the tournament started, two teams were forced to leave the tournament as several players had tested positive. 

After those initial cases, MLS conducted over 11,000 tests over a span of less than a month and found a single positive result. 

The importance of the MLS and NBA’ success in their completely new approach to playing professional sports is that it clearly shows, with the proper protocols in place, professional sports can and should be played in 2020. However, not every league is doing quite as well with their handling of player safety. 

Major League Baseball has seen possibly the worst handling of COVID-19 precautions of any sports league. For a game where players are almost always separated by far more than the recommended six feet, it is off the field situations that caused the most trouble for the league. 

With the league not implementing strict guidelines, such as a bubble, many teams have seen cases spike drastically. The Miami Marlins faced a COVID-19 debacle when 18 members of the team tested positive for the virus

What caused this unprecedented spike on a professional sports team? Was it some lack of sanitization at a facility that they used? Was it an asymptomatic player who had been spreading the virus without knowing? Not exactly.

According to NBC Sports, several Marlin players were out enjoying the city life during their road trip to Atlanta shortly after the season began. Despite rumors that players were visiting a strip club, owner Derek Jeter reassured the media that the team was not involved in any “salacious” activity but that they were just generally incompetent.

“The entire traveling party got a little too comfortable,” Jeter said. “Guys were around each other, they got relaxed and they let their guard down. They were getting together in groups. They weren’t wearing masks as much as they should have. They weren’t social distancing.”

The MLB’s response to COVID-19 testing has been so poor that commissioner Rob Manfred threatened to cancel the season if the Players Association could not swiftly dissolve the situation.

As for the biggest and most popular sports league in America, the NFL had a slight scare when they found that 77 players tested positive for COVID-19. Upon further testing, these turned out to be false positives; all 77 players tested negative.

Despite the uncertainty from the league on how exactly teams will manage traveling and playing in different markets each week, individual teams are taking strong stances on social distancing requirements. 

The Seattle Seahawks released rookie cornerback Kemah Siverand after he attempted to sneak someone into his hotel room. Siverand reportedly tried to sneak a woman into his hotel room by dressing her in Seahawks apparel. Despite Siverand’s best efforts, his plan was foiled, and the Seahawks cut the rookie, setting a strict precedent.

While there are apparent discrepancies in how each league approaches player safety, one thing remains clear: setting up proper precautions that include severe social distancing, and constant player monitoring can and has worked. 

The question now shifts to how and if leagues will continue to keep these strict regimens up. Back in July, before any sports league had jump-started again, there was a significant sense of pessimism from both players and fans, myself included. 

The leagues that have shown the ability to implement efficient and safe protocols should be praised and used as a template for the rest of the sports industry. It is beyond evident that there is a way to play sports in 2020 safely; it is up to the leagues if they want to do so.

It is no longer a question of can it be done but will it be done. As the NFL primes itself to return to action in just a few weeks, we will see a greater insight into how the league, or perhaps more correctly, if the league chooses to handle the pandemic correctly.