On Monday news broke that up to 12 members of the Miami Marlins organization had tested positive for COVID-19, leading to multiple postponed MLB games and the chance that the entire season may be at risk.
The news freaked out a lot of sports fans, who are now wondering what this means for pro sports going forward, and how the NFL and college football could possibly pull this off in the fall.
What’s strange about all this is that, elsewhere in the world, sports are going on just fine. There aren’t any fans in the stands, but sports are happening, with limited to no major outbreaks. They’re happening, however, in countries that are not the United States.
Last week, USA TODAY Sports’ Nancy Armour wrote about how the soccer leagues in Europe have shown us a model to make this work — even without a bubble — but also pointed out how incredibly difficult it would be to replicate here, and how that is in part a result of this country’s response (or lack of one) to the pandemic.
From Armour’s column:
In countries where the government had a comprehensive response to COVID that was rooted in science, and the public was supportive of containment measures, people got their sports back.
That … hasn’t happened here. Uneven quarantines, differing rules on masks, little to no contact tracing, and delayed test results have led to the U.S. being one of the countries that has most struggled to contain the virus. While much of the rest of the world has the number of positive tests holding steady or receding, the U.S. continues to climb.
And yet we’re still trying to have sports here, despite all this.
It’s like the Nationals’ Sean Doolittle said: “Sports are like the reward for a functioning society.”
It’s unclear if we deserve that reward right now.
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However, I’m not just going to blame this on our country’s response, as lackluster as it has been. Also to blame: The reality of what our country looks like, and how it’s organized.
The United States is big, and when you have a big country, you have to travel far distances to play games in a pro sports league. Unless you’re in a bubble a la the NBA or MLS, odds are you’re going to have to go a long way. Travel exposes you to new people, new locations, and that increases the chance of risk.
Smaller countries can mitigate this risk. In the Premier League, for example, they’re in a country that hasn’t handled the response to the COVID-19 outbreak as well as others. But the small size of the country means travel can be limited and contained — players can go directly from their facility, on to a disinfected team bus, and drive directly to the opponent’s field.
No air travel. No hotels. Less variables means less things out of your control. The more you’re in control, the better your chance to limit outbreaks.
On top of which, we live in a country made up with states, states which have power to design their own responses to the pandemic. This isn’t a country where a national government can come up with a comprehensive plan and ensure every local government follows that plan — each state is different. As teams cross state lines, they enter new realities as it comes to maintaining and containing this viral outbreak.
Again, this adds things outside of the league’s control. The more things out of your control, the higher the risk of the outbreak.
The NBA and MLS dealt with this reality by creating a bubble where they could maintain some level of control. (As we’ve seen from Lou Williams’ gentleman’s club escapade and MLS issues, however, it’s only some level of control.)
MLB and, as of now, NFL have chosen to … hope. And hope hasn’t seemed to work so far for MLB.
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