The lessons we’ve learned from the return to pro-sports

Los Angeles Clippers’ guard Lou Williams, who was forced to quarantine for ten days after flouting NBA rules on his journey back to the bubble from a funeral. Via Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports.

Imagine for a moment that you are a fit, healthy 20-something who gets paid millions of dollars a year to play a game while the rest of the country is seeing absurdly high unemployment rates, evictions, poor or nonexistent healthcare, and next to no help from the government. So what’s the catch to returning to your job if you feel safe doing so? Only that you must take extra precautions not to contract the virus that is the root cause of all the upheaval in order to avoid jeopardizing the health of your fellow athletes, your coaches, and the rest of your team’s staff.

That is the current situation of a major league baseball player. The MLB started up their season in late July, and the NBA and NHL soon followed suit. Despite the global pandemic, professional sports in the United States have returned, and tons of people are thrilled to tune in again. It is a beacon of hope in these dark times that provides a glimpse of pre-pandemic normalcy. “So this is gonna be an uplifting and cheery article then, right?” I hear you asking. Sorry, no. Just like every other institution or business in this country that has tried to reopen, professional sports has hit some major speed bumps.

Let’s start with baseball, as they have seen the biggest failure so far. The return to baseball has not always been a complete mess; they have gotten a good number of games completed in the last month. But there was a week or two where things were starting to look real shaky, with league commissioner Rob Manfred saying that the league could be forced to shut down if infections continued to rise. By July 31, about a week after the start of the season, at least 18 players on the Miami Marlins had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the Marlin’s next seven games were postponed. It doesn’t end there. Multiple people within the Philadelphia Phillies organization also tested positive, causing their next seven games to be postponed, and around the same time, the St. Louis Cardinals had at least nine players test positive, leading to the postponement of their next 14 games. The season seemed on the brink of collapse within the first two weeks. Luckily, things settled down after all the postponements (or more accurately, because of the postponements). 

So what gives? Why did these teams, specifically the Cardinals and Marlins, have so many positive cases? For starters, a virus will spread like wildfire in a locker room environment, so it is not surprising that once a couple players were infected, the cases continued to spiral out of control. As for how each outbreak began, we will never know for sure, but one prevailing rumor is that some Marlins players went out to a strip club while they were staying in Atlanta to play the Braves. The Cardinals outbreak was supposedly caused by players taking a trip to the casino, although the organization has denied this.

Outbreaks were inevitable, but this? This is just plain ridiculous. These players knew they were not allowed to go out and spend time at strip clubs or casinos where they had a high chance of catching the virus, jeopardizing the entire season as well as the health of hundreds of other people. Yet they did it anyway. As usual, sports are a microcosm of life, and the behavior of these players shows why the containment of the virus has been such a disaster in this country. These baseball players are getting millions of dollars a year to play a game while the rest of the country suffers, and yet they can’t take simple precautions because they would rather go out to strip clubs. This isn’t just a baseball player thing though; this is an American thing. Too many people in the United States are entitled, inconsiderate fools. They think the rules don’t apply to them, the rules are for “other people” to worry about and if the rules conflict with their immediate desires they don’t hesitate to ignore them. This is why people don’t wear masks, don’t social distance, but do hang out in big groups or go to parties (I am looking at you Vassar Students, you are no less of an embarrassment than the rest of the country), and it is why after almost six months of fighting this virus, we have made little progress in containing it and have often taken steps backward instead. If we can’t even agree to follow some simple, painless rules to protect the lives in our communities, then how can we ever make any progress as a society? 

The story is a little different in the NBA, but that is mostly because the NBA has a competent commissioner (Adam Silver) and laid out a smart plan for starting up the season again. The NBA decided to employ a “bubble” strategy similar to the one we have here at Vassar, although theirs is much more luxurious, as they reside within the Walt Disney World Resort, and the NBA is much more strict about no one being allowed to leave the compound. However, as anyone could’ve guessed, some players felt like the rules didn’t apply to them. After briefly leaving the NBA bubble to attend a funeral, Los Angeles Clippers player Lou Williams decided to stop at an Atlanta strip club on his way back to the bubble. Yet unlike the players in the MLB, Williams was swiftly “punished” by being forced to quarantine for 10 days, resulting in him missing two games. Personally, if I was in charge I wouldn’t have let him back in the bubble, but the 10 day quarantine was sufficient in stopping the virus from spreading throughout the bubble and probably shows us that if the enforcement of rules is strict enough, we can protect ourselves from this virus. The NBA has actually been quite a success overall, not having been hindered by the virus much at all, and is a shining example of the good that can come from real leadership and a well-thought-out plan (something we unfortunately have been completely without in our federal government). Similar to the NBA, the NHL has seen lots of success with their bubble and have come across practically no hurdles so far. 

The successes and failures of the NHL, NBA and MLB are solid evidence that a bubble may be the only way to have a successful sports season during this pandemic (in this country). Despite this, the NFL, which I would argue is the most oblivious league when it comes to anything other than maximizing profit at all costs (blatantly ignoring racial justice issues within the league and the outside world as well as ignoring safety concerns for many years), plans to hold their season as scheduled without a bubble. NFL players have already begun training camp, and unlike the MLB, there are plans for some NFL teams to have thousands of fans in the stands for their games. This just shows how out of touch with reality the NFL continues to be. Allowing thousands of fans in the stands, even if they are “socially distancing” (while still walking around the stadium together and sharing bathrooms) is a recipe for disaster. Some NFL owners just couldn’t stand the idea of losing a couple bucks from attendance revenue (which contributes to only a small percentage of an NFL team’s profit) even if it meant a safer season. If your goal was to contract the virus, the easiest way to do so would be to gather in a stadium with thousands of other people. I think this decision, paired with the incompetence of NFL officials and coaches, will blow up in their face. But only time will tell. 

Strong leadership, a smart plan, and people willing to follow the rules are all critical pieces to having a successful reopening of any kind during this pandemic. We have seen some sports leagues pay close attention to these requirements and we have seen others disregard them entirely. I think the successes and failures of these leagues present invaluable data for the rest of us as we try to reopen the country and get back to our lives in some capacity. Unfortunately, success stories seem to be few and far between, especially with colleges across the country. Here at Vassar, we are in a strange limbo between the carefulness of the NBA and the laxness of the MLB. We are taking more precautions than baseball has, but less than basketball. It is up to us to decide which league we have the most similar outcome to. As of right now, we (the students of Vassar) are not doing a good enough job. Some people are going off-campus and breaking the bubble to get food, some people are having parties and some people are not following social distancing guidelines. There is a very real possibility of getting shut down unless we step up here. Earlier in this article, I said too many Americans are entitled, inconsiderate fools. Prove to me that Vassar students are better than that, that we can look out for each other and our community.

One Comment

  1. Ridiculous and blatantly sexist that you didn’t even mention any women’s sports leagues. The NWSL showed that bubbles are completely feasible, and the WNBA continues to do the same. Do some more research

Leave a Reply to Kate Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *