The State of the United States
The Sports World - Covid & 2020
It’s February 2, 2020 better known as Superbowl Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs are trailing the San Francisco 49ers by two scores late in the third quarter. Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, the entire Chiefs roster and Chiefs nation understand that time is of the essence and how imperative the next drive is. The Chiefs rally from down ten to answer with twenty one unanswered points in the fourth quarter to prevail with a final score of 31-20. Every Chiefs fan embraces their loved ones, friends and family members that have endured the last fifty years without the joy of winning the last game of the season.
The celebrations commence and the Chiefs celebrate a Superbowl victory in style. Fans from far and wide ascend on the streets of Kansas City for the biggest party in five decades. Tens of thousands of fans pack shoulder to shoulder to celebrate. However, there is something dangerous and terrifying looming.
Thirteen days earlier, and nearly two thousand miles away, the first case of Covid-19 is confirmed in the United States. Seattle,WA is home to patient zero in the country. It will be far from the city’s, states or country’s only case.
Fast forward six months to August 2020 and Covid-19 has more than 5.8 million confirmed cases in the United States alone. It has derailed and uprooted basic everyday life and the economy of the United States. Sports is no exception to this cataclysmic shift.
In person football practices, OTAs and preseason football games have been postponed or cancelled altogether. Professional athletes are opting out as a precautionary measure of their own health and safety of their families. The professional football season is in jeopardy. Every question is tough to answer. And every answer is contingent on a number of variables that are constantly changing. This is the state of sports in the United States, and much of the world, in 2020.
Why are NFL Players Opting Out of the 2020 Season?
There are a number of various reasons why professional athletes are opting out of their oft lush contracts for the year. From pre-existing conditions that can lead to hospitalizations and deaths, to family safety and wellness of significant others that may be expecting a child. Playing football during a pandemic not only increases the athletes risk of personal injury, but also increases the risk of spreading the disease to the ones they love most. For that reason, several NFL athletes have already chosen to opt out of the 2020 season including Eddie Goldman (Bears), Patrick Chung (Patriots), and in the case of Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff.
Laurent is a unique case as he is just the fourth graduate of a medical school to play in the highest level of professional football. As a result of his medical background and passion for helping people, Duvernay-Tardiff released the following statement:
"Being on the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system. I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our own communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients."
Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff intends on passing up on his multi-million dollar NFL contract to help his hometown in his native Quebec. He has optioned to trade his football pads and helmet for a different kind of PPE. He has substituted his jersey out for scrubs. His occupation this year will still have him working on a line, but instead of an offensive line, he will be on the front lines against this pandemic. He has risked his body helping to protect his quarterback, and now will risk his well-being and health in a different way to help his hometown community during this crisis.
Is It Safe to Play Football in 2020?
Complicated to say entirely one way or the other, but the simple answer is it depends on who you ask. The Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, released a letter regarding the ongoing matter. An excerpt follows:
"Players and coaches will be tested for the virus regularly, including every day for a while. Preseason games have been canceled. Everyone in the team environment must follow rigorous health and safety protocols to keep themselves and each other safe. When there is a positive test, strict regulations will be enforced to isolate and care for that individual and to contain the virus before it spreads.”
When you read between the lines and look at this statement closely, you can see the problems that can quickly surmount by this excerpt. These words are bolded and italicized above.
When the commissioner of any organized entity, releases a statement it is best to delineate an actual plan or timeline. By saying “a while” the commissioner implies that the testing timeline is vague and possibly fluid. But why?
Some scientific experts believe that we are still in phase one of this pandemic. If we are still in the early stages of a pandemic, why is the professional football league not planning on conducting daily testing? Especially with the lack of a bubble system that has been implemented in other professional sporting organizations including the NBA, NHL and MLS. The absence of a bubble thus increases the potential of exposure in highly trafficked areas. Pair that with the extremely physical nature of American football, and the recipe for positive tests greatly increases. Which leads us to the next word - “test”.
The NFL has had months to prepare for the looming 2020 season. Since the outbreak originally evolved in the United States in mid-March, the NFL has done little to implement a legitimate plan that focuses on the health and safety of the players, and team personnel. Yes the NFL went to a virtual draft and has cancelled the preseason, but that's potentially only prolonging the inevitable. An eventual outbreak.
According to the United States’ leading expert on Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, he stated the following:
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall. If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
When we compare and contrast the immensely different statements by the league’s commissioner to the Country’s leading epidemiologist, we are left with a stark contrast between what the league and science are disseminating. While the Commissioner and the league are optimistic, science has taken a more realistic tone.
The Commissioner of the NFL needs to be cognizant of the fact that if there is a positive test, the likelihood of positive tests is greatly increased. If even one member is exposed to the virus and participates in a game it can quickly spread. Case and point, look no further than the state of Major League Baseball.
Covid & Baseball
The Marlins, along with two other teams, have been impacted as a result of positive COVID-19 tests. And this is in a game that is much better suited for social distancing guidelines as there is limited contact and is not considered a “contact sport”. As a result of the outbreak, the Marlins were forced to postpone multiple games. They will have to find out a way to make up the games via doubleheaders, albeit seven inning double headers, in the future.
The impact however of an outbreak has ripple effects beyond the team in question. When one time has a positive test, or tests, the upcoming game(s) will be postponed leading to at least one other team being impacted from the outbreak.
Although the MLB is able to schedule doubleheaders for games impacted by weather, pandemics or other natural events, it will be interesting to see how these games are made up, or if they are made up at all. As of August 26, 2020 there are disparities between teams that have been impacted by team outbreaks. Teams like Miami, have played a total of twenty five games, while a non-impacted team has played somewhere between thirty and thirty one games in this already abridged season.
In a pandemic shortened season, it will be an undertaking to make up all the missed games when sixty games were scheduled to be played in sixty-five days. Although this schedule is quite ambitious, we will see how the season pans out with the amounts of teams and players that have been impacted.
As a result of the positive cases, the MLB has reportedly eyed a possible bubble for the 2020 MLB playoffs.
When we use the NBA as an example, with their continual success and continued success of 100% success negative tests, we must look inward to examine if using a non-bubble system is realistic and safe for athletes, members and staff in 2020. At least in the short term, the NBA’s approach has proven to be successful.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far, the bubble approach has been the most successful approach to playing organized professional sports in 2020. Bubbles in European soccer leagues, the NBA and MLS have so far proven much more promising relative to the leagues that have chosen a more traditional path.
A positive test that leads to any outbreak for any team, or teams, can completely uproot the upcoming football season. If an outbreak does occur, expect quarantines and the entire schedule to potentially be impacted. With all of these uncertainties, players are opting out to better protect their own and families, health and safety.
Sports provides a sense of hope and joy to hundreds of millions of people across the world each year. However, with the vast amount of uncertainty that 2020 provides and beyond, it may be best to take the most cautious approach. That however presents a whole separate litany of issues including massive loss of revenue for organizations. The 2020 NFL season is scheduled to kickoff the season on September, 10 2020 with the defending champions set to defend their title in Kansas City. The sports world, and world as a whole, is much different from the last time the champs took the field.
About the author
Adam graduated from Chico State with a degree in History and works in the digital marketing sector. An avid fan of baseball, you can find him sitting in Petco Park's bleachers or wolfing down a burrito in his free time.