Deep Dive: Sports During a Pandemic

Deep Dive: Sports During a Pandemic

Charlie Abt

On March 11, 2020, the NBA announced it had suspended its season due to COVID-19. The NHL and MLB did the same the next day. We would go over four months without a major professional sport being played in the US. MLB was the first to play an official game with a start date of July 23rd, or 119 days later than initially expected. The NBA resumed on July 30th, 140 days after it was suspended, and the NHL resumed two days after the NBA. MLB took a very different approach than the NBA and NHL did, as the MLB decided it was going to implement a bubble, but only for the playoffs. Therefore, they suffered through two team-wide outbreaks that caused a significant amount of postponements during the season, however, the two outbreaks happened at the beginning of the season, and then never again. On the other hand, the NBA and NHL had a bubble in which players were not allowed to leave a specific area, and as a result, neither had any positive tests during the rest of the season. Although I was glad that professional sports had returned, some wondered if it was morally right to play sports during a pandemic, in which the leagues would have to test their players every day. Thus some believed they were taking tests away from the public when, in reality, it is much more complicated than that. The tests the leagues used were purchased from private companies and were tests that the general public would have had to pay for, rather than the free tests offered by state governments. 

Turner after testing positive

COVID-19 has also caused changes to the leagues’ overall schedule and formatting. In MLB, they played only 60 games, playoffs were expanded, and teams only played those in their region to reduce travel. In the NHL, they completely realigned the divisions to minimize travel. In the NBA, they are playing at a reduced schedule along with play-in games for the playoffs, although that has a chance of being permanent. The NFL did not make schedule changes prior to the season beginning, other than not having a preseason. However, during the season, they were forced to move things around due to COVID outbreaks on two different teams. So far, each of the leagues has suffered at least one team-wide outbreak that has caused multiple postponements to the teams’ schedules. MLB had to major outbreaks early in the season, including one on the third day, in which they still allowed the Miami Marlins to play a game despite having a positive test come back the morning of the game. 18 of the 30 Marlins on the roster would test positive for COVID-19 in the next week. Just a few weeks after that, MLB would have another teamwide outbreak with the St. Louis Cardinals, however, this one was not nearly as bad as the Marlins outbreak. After that, MLB would have very few cases throughout the rest of the season, and ultimately the season was viewed as a success, but not without some controversy. During game 6 of the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers had to pull Justin Turner from the game after he had a positive test come back. The Dodgers would go on to win the game and, as a result, the World Series. The entire team was out celebrating on the field, except for Justin Turner, but that wouldn’t last long. Despite testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day, Turner was out on the field celebrating with his teammates. MLB received plenty of backlash for not stopping him from going out there. Many Dodgers did not seem to mind as they were willing to interact with him, despite his positive test. Of course, the NFL had two major team outbreaks, both of with caused the NFL to have to work its magic in terms of scheduling. They had to switch bye weeks around, have teams play games on Tuesday, and even a Wednesday. Both the NBA and NHL survived their bubbles with little controversy and zero positive cases following intake testing. That has not been the same since they restarted, with the NBA already having to postpone more than ten games due to either positive tests or contact tracing and teams not having enough players to play. While in the NHL, the Dallas Stars had a teamwide outbreak before the regular season kicked off, and it caused them to have to delay the start of their season.

Overall, there is certainly a debate as to whether it is morally right for there to be professional sports right, but in the end, sports are a way of life for a lot of people. It also brings a sense of normalcy back to society, and of course, all players have the choice as to whether they want to play or not, and in no way being forced to.