What Sports Have Got Right, And Wrong, During The Pandemic

By: Nathan Tucker

nrtucker@lc.edu

 

Over the past so many months of this ongoing pandemic, sports have made both a concerted and not-so-concerted effort to safely proceed with competition. Some leagues and organizations have made all the right steps. Others, to put it plainly, have not. 

This brief article will run down the major sports that have resumed a season or started a season in the past four months, and will separate them simply by who got covid protocols right, and who did not and who simply pretended safety was paramount in order to get back on the field.

 

GOT IT RIGHT!

NBA

The NBA set the gold standard for how a sport should operate during a pandemic. By creating the NBA Bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at DisneyWorld in Orlando, the league drew criticism for keeping players cooped up in hotel rooms, but in doing so became the only league to have absolutely zero positive COVID-19 tests among teams/staff in competition. 

Even when introducing family and friends to the NBA Bubble later in the playoffs, strict quarantining measures allowed this to be done safely. The NBA didn’t postpone a single game because of the virus, a feat only it and the NHL can claim.

NHL

Speaking of, the National Hockey League didn’t have a completely secure bubble, with a few positive cases popping up here and there, but tried their best to create two “hub cities” which acted as bubbles for each conference during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The NHL’s biggest advantage over other North American sports leagues was being able to set up shop in Canada, where COVID-19 is far less rampant, thanks in large part to the nation’s more cautious approach to the pandemic than the US. 

When the NBA first announced their bubble in Orlando, a question often asked was “Would it be safe in the most COVID-heavy state in America?” Hosting a bubble in Canada, where cities were dealing with far fewer positive virus cases, eliminated that problem, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs went off without a hitch.

Now the compliments come to an end. 

 

GOT IT WRONG!

NFL

The NFL has been a mess this season, and has been more in flux week-to-week than any other sport has been during the pandemic. Just last Sunday, Nov. 1, the NFL announced it was the first football Sunday which no player tested positive for COVID. 

Multiple players missed games with “illnesses”, and multiple teams announced on Monday, Nov. 2, that players had tested positive and teams would be locking down their facilities, some not for the first time. 

A positive test for New England Patriots QB, Cam Newton, provided a terrible game of football against the Denver Broncos in October. Since, both teams have been dealing with the fallout of having players miss time and not being ready for games due to a lack of game fitness.

I haven’t even mentioned that they’ve been welcoming fans, all across the country, against all better judgment. What good is a team’s efforts to be safe when you’re selling 20k tickets to random people? Are teams even making efforts to be safe when we can’t see them? 

Judging by how much of a problem the virus continues to be throughout the football season, probably not.

NCAA Football

Just like the above but without paying athletes and inviting even more random fans to games. Even Illinois, a bad football team in a state with a Democratic governor who is attempting to take the virus seriously, allowed one thousand people to attend their home game against Purdue. 

In other states and stadiums, where football is of the highest importance, those numbers are much higher, and scenes of the lack of social distancing become internet fodder for the weekend. 

College football needs to reassess their policy on allowing fans in stadiums. Leaving it to local government regulations and colleges will see those scenes continuing throughout the season. 

MLS

The first US sport to come back in the pandemic was also the first sport to have a COVID outbreak that forced multiple teams to cancel games early on in the #MLSisBack tournament. The league’s attempts at an Orlando bubble fell short, with teams showing up to the bubble with positive cases. 

Positive cases entering a quarantined bubble does not equal the bubble remaining quarantined. Since the #MLSisBack tourney, the MLS has returned to a semi-normal schedule, and is wrapping up their season without fans in attendance, so they’re at least learning.

MLB

Last but not least, the league that seemed to realize about halfway through its season that the pandemic should be taken more seriously, and decided not to do that; Major League Baseball somehow created a safe “bubble” for players in the playoffs and World Series and ended up messing that up on the grandest possible scale. 

Cardinals fans will remember the team missing nearly two weeks of games this season due to multiple players testing positive for the virus. Some were completely incapacitated by the virus. Carlos Martinez suffered lingering effects from COVID basically all season.

So you’d think that MLB would see this and heed the lessons learned by other leagues to have a quarantined playoff or finals, but instead, they invited somewhere around 13,000 fans to their bubble, for some reason. It is almost like asking thousands of people to travel thousands of miles to watch baseball during a global pandemic isn’t a good idea or something.

And that was before Dodgers star, Justin Turner, was pulled out of the World Series clinching game for a positive COVID test, and then about an hour and change later celebrated on the field with his teammates instead of staying quarantined anywhere else in the stadium. 

As we move towards a world of simply living with coronavirus as we wait for a possible vaccine, sports leagues and organizations have a responsibility to keep everyone safe.

If lessons are learned and safer guidelines are heeded, sports can continue safely. If not, both people and the sport are put at risk.

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