Coronavirus’ Impact on American Professional Sports

Julia Teixeira, Sentry Reporter

There is an old saying in sports to not hate the player, hate the game. But what if the player gives you the coronavirus? The virus that has affected nearly every aspect of life, has drastically altered the way professional sports leagues are proceeding with their seasons, and people wonder if it will ever be the same.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) was the first major sports organization to be directly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) when, on March 11, Utah Jazz superstar Rudy Gobert announced he had tested positive for the virus. On that same day, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that the NBA season was shutting down “until further notice.” 

“It was really a moment for us to step back, take a deep breath and ensure that everyone in the NBA community was safe and healthy and doing everything they needed to do to care for their families,” Silver told TNT’s Inside the NBA.

Just a day later, another NBA rising star and teammate of Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, revealed he had also tested positive. Despite the NBA and Silver’s earlier attempts to try to get ahead of the virus, they still could not avoid exposing their staff and athletes to COVID-19.

Less than two months later, NBA league coordinators came up with a way to try to salvage the rest of the season: have all NBA games played in a bubble of hotels and arenas in Orlando, Florida, where no one comes in, and no one goes out. The remainder of the regular season would only showcase the 22 best teams in the league when play was stopped. The top 16 remaining teams would compete in the NBA playoffs following the conclusion of the regular season.

 Securing and maintaining safety from the coronavirus in the bubble would not come without costs. The players would have to be away from their families for potentially three months, and would need to get tested nearly every day. But, with the NBA season finally ending and the Los Angeles Lakers being crowned the new champions, the bubble concept turned out to be an extraordinarily successful idea. Teams completed their full seasons and no new coronavirus cases were reported.

The National Hockey League (NHL) took an almost identical approach to that of the NBA in finishing out their season and playoffs. The NHL also shut down on March 11 after reports of NBA players having coronavirus, which directly affected the NHL, since many arenas across the country house both hockey and basketball games.

“Following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told CNBC.

The bubble concept for their league was similar to the NBA’s plan, but instead, teams were split up by their conference. The Western Conference would stay in a bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, while the Eastern Conference would reside in Toronto, Ontario.

The bubble plan for the NHL was also a tremendous success. They maintained the health and safety of their athletes and staff, and finished out their season and playoffs with the Tampa Bay Lightning being crowned Stanley Cup champions.

With the bubble idea having worked out so perfectly for the NBA and the NHL, many wondered if Major League Baseball’s (MLB) season would take a similar route. 

MLB took a different approach to dealing with the coronavirus. On June 23, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred proposed an idea to have a 60-game MLB season, only 37% of MLB’s regular 162-game season. The league decided it was the smartest way to go about these issues, since starting a brand new season in a finite, confined bubble area was not practical. Nonetheless, it only took a month for things to go haywire.

On July 27, the Miami Marlins reported a massive outbreak within their team. Twenty people, nearly a third of the team’s staff and players, tested positive for the coronavirus. MLB swiftly put the Marlins’ season on pause as they tested every athlete and staff member for every team, and took time to reevaluate their season.

“I think that a team losing a number of players that rendered it completely non-competitive would be an issue that we would have to address and have to think about making a change, whether that was shutting down a part of the season, the whole season, that depends,” Manfred told CNN.

Despite this scary roadblock in MLB’s season, the Miami Marlins eventually confirmed that everyone else on their team was healthy and negative, and continued with their season just two days later.

Besides the Marlins debacle, MLB has not reported any other major, team-wide outbreaks, but several players have individually announced that they had contracted the coronavirus at some point during the season. Most notably, all-star Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals tested positive, causing him to sit out the first five games of the season, and Eduardo Rodriguez of the Boston Red Sox who is still recovering from life threatening heart issues he attained as a result of the coronavirus.

MLB’s season is coming to a close, with the playoffs underway and only the best of the best teams remaining, but the National Football League (NFL) is just getting their season started. The NFL arguably has the least safe regulations regarding coronavirus, with no bubble concept, and even limited amount of fans being able to attend games at certain stadiums.

As many people expected, it didn’t take long for the NFL to be directly impacted by COVID-19. On September 29, the first player was added to the new special COVID-19 Injured Reserve (IR) list, and on October 3, NFL superstar quarterback Cam Newton of the New England Patriots, announced that he had tested positive.

I think the biggest scare here for everybody was just my daily routine of how many hours I put in the facility.… Because I didn’t want to put nobody else on the team in jeopardy for this,” Newton said on WEEI’s “Greg Hill Show.” 

Unfortunately for Newton, his fears came true when other players on the Patriots, most notably cornerback Stephon Gilmore, tested positive as well. Every day it seems as if the NFL just adds more and more people to the coronavirus IR list, with no sign of it stopping or slowing down. This leaves millions of fans wondering if there is ever going to be a major outbreak, or if the season will subsequently be canceled.

The coronavirus drastically impacted the way professional sports games were held this year, and with the virus still running rampant in the United States, it is unclear if sports the way we know it will ever be the same. Nonetheless, sports organizations came up with some clever ways to combat the coronavirus, with some strategies working better than others, and brought the American people some entertainment during these turbulent times.