COVID-19 in Sports: How Teams Are Responding

There is no question that COVID-19 is still impacting us all, causing unrest and mixed opinions. What will it mean when everyone who wants the vaccine has it? Will masks be required in certain states or stores after this is over? Are 100% capacity events a thing of the past? Although it may come as a surprise, these very questions that the common man and woman ask can often be related to the sports world. In the past month, things have looked quite different at professional sporting events and, for better or worse, it’s a step in a new direction.

The smallest change has been in the NBA. At the start of the NBA season back in February, teams had been able to move back into their home stadiums to play the 2021 season. Although it may not sound like much, keep in mind that NBA games were one of the last “normal” sporting events to take place back in March of 2020. Basketball was put on hold until it returned in “the bubble” a few months later. Located in Bay Lake, Florida, the NBA was able to crown a champion for a season that had seemed to be lost. Up until very recently, the move away from the bubble had been the closest thing to pre-covid sports. In response to the skeptics’  hypothetical ‘How successful has the move been’: outstanding. The NBA has only had to postpone 28 games with an additional 3 being moved and made up according to the NBA’s official site. On the sidelines, players are distanced and have masks on at all times they do not enter the game. Staff and personnel can always be seen with masks and gloves on. Adam Silver, the commissioner, says that he “has learned a lot”  about the testing and health protocols from the predecessors to the NBA 2021 season: namely MLB and NFL. For most NBA teams, fans, at some capacity, have returned to arenas.

The same is true for baseball. Home opening day for all 30 MLB teams had fans present in the stadium. The Red Sox hosted the least amount of fans for their home opener, April 1st. At 12% capacity, approximately 4500 fans were in attendance according to Alden Gonzalez and Jesse Rogers’s ESPN article. However, the biggest eye opener to the entire world was on April 5 when the Texas Rangers hosted the Toronto Blue Jays at 100% capacity. This marked the very first sporting event to be at full capacity in over a year. In total, over 40,000 fans were in attendance at Globe Life Stadium in Texas. Not only did this mark uncharted territory for capacity numbers, it literally allowed fans into uncharted territory, as this was the first regular season game that fans could attend at Globe Life. After the game, Woodyard, the coach of the Rangers, said it “felt like a real game… it resembled some sort of normality.” Many politicians, including President Joe Biden, called the hosting a “mistake.”  The Rangers, however, will hold somewhere in the ballpark of 11,000 fans on average throughout the month of April. Even with the full capacity in Texas, the MLB is still trying to enforce strict regulations. According to ESPN writer Marly Rivera, any team that reaches 85% vaccination among players, coaches and staff, will have easier protocols. This would include not having to quarantine due to an exposure and dugout mask- wear becoming less of a necessity. Stepping into the batter’s box, however, the MLB saw their first player sidelined due to COVID-19 vaccine side effects. Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela was removed moments before the first pitch on Friday, April 9th. 

Whether you agree or disagree with the moves being made in the sports world, these are definitely steps in a new direction. 

As we appear to be reaching previously charted waters in some sporting events, others, more specifically the NHL, have been struggling. The NHL has recently been dealing with game cancellations due to an outbreak of COVID-19. The Vancouver Canucks have had 25 players and coaches test positive and, according to Emily Kaplan from ESPN, almost all players are symptomatic.  Although dealing with fatigue and dehydration, not one member of the Canucks has opted out of the season thus far. More bad news struck the organization earlier this month when a confirmed case of the Brazilian strand was found. Initially, the reopen date for an informal practice was to be held on Sunday, April 11. However, due to the NHL COVID-19 protocols, any return would have to wait until  Monday, April 12. To date, five games have been postponed since March 31. With a current record of 16-18-3, 6th in the North and out of a playoff spot, many of the families of players, including the wife of Adam Gaudette, Micaela, have openly announced that they do not want to see the NHL try to squeeze in extra games. A New York Times article by Gerald Narciso included some of Micaela Gaudette’s thoughts on the situation: “I think it would be awful if they tried to squeeze in extra games…because these guys are already going to have fatigue issues and they’re coming off of that illness.” At this moment, the Canucks are still hopeful to play  Friday, April 16 at 9 pm EST, against the Oilers.

There is no doubt that sports are a great pastime for many citizens worldwide. However, fans and commissioners have to remember that these men and women are still human, with families and commitments outside of the workplace. If any league is going to be successful at getting back to normal, it will be the one that can keep the players the safest.