Today is opening day for the Atlanta Braves. That’s right, 17 weeks after the originally-scheduled opening day for Major League Baseball, the Braves are playing their NL East rival New York Mets at Citi Field in a shortened 60-game season. MLS continues with its “MLS Is Back” tournament in Orlando. The NBA returns next week and the NHL quickly follows on Aug. 1.
It’s an exciting time for live sports, especially since they were, effectively, shut down in mid-March. So with this flurry of professional sports returning, how can we do this safely? How can we resume or, in the case of MLB and NFL, begin seasons with health as the priority?
The first thing it’s going to come down to is testing. Can we test and receive results on a regular basis throughout the regular season and playoffs? It’s going to be crucial to conduct contact tracing when an athlete or a coach tests positive, move said individual or individuals to isolation and limit exposure as much as possible. It has been noted several times by experts and, recently, by the president himself, that the pandemic will get worse before it gets better. Keeping that in mind, for those professional teams in the “bubble” in Orlando (NBA) or the teams on the move from city to city (MLB), it’s crucial to keep the team’s exposure down to as few people as possible.
Take the case of Freddie Freeman. He’s 30 years old, in the prime of his career and appears to be in top physical condition. But Freeman contracted COVID-19 and his fever reached as high as 104.5 degrees. As Freeman said in a video conference call to the media, it terrified him. As it would any of us. While Freeman’s condition has been more severe than that of other athletes, it goes to show you COVID-19 can impact anyone, regardless of age and physical abilities. And its impact varies from person to person.
The second part is strictly following the CDC guidelines of continuing to frequently wash hands, wear masks and social distance. Now, the social distance part is not going to be possible during action on the respective field of play itself (baseball is slightly more possible), but off the field, all of these factors are critical. All leagues have their requirements, but as athletes test positive, even if asymptomatic, enforcing procedures will be paramount. Look, I’m excited live baseball, football, basketball and hockey are returning (or continuing in MLS’ case), but it’s important to not let our guard down. COVID-19 won’t just disappear without a vaccine.
This is going to be an even larger and more complicated issue with college and especially high school sports. Unlike multi-million dollar professional leagues, colleges and high schools do not have the resources or flexibility to isolate coaches and athletes. How are we going to ensure the athletes and coaches competing at least once per week (football) or even multiple times per week (softball, volleyball, etc.) are protected while the pandemic rages on? Will there be some kind of testing or screening before games? What will crowds look like? These are questions that will need some addressing from the powers that be before schools resume and local sporting events get underway.