The Twins told two coaches in their 60s that they’re not allowed to work games this season out of concern for their safety. Nearly one-third of Clemson’s football roster tested positive for the coronavirus. A National Women’s Soccer League team withdrew from a tournament after an outbreak of positive tests reportedly tied to a night out at a bar.
I generally consider myself to be an optimistic person. Recent developments have taken a jackhammer to my optimism regarding the return to sports.
Namely, how in Hades is this going to work?!
One week my outlook seems hopeful. The next week, gulp. Feels like I’m riding the Scream Machine of emotional roller coasters.
And yet I still believe allowing sports to resume is the right decision, however crazy that might sound considering the glut of fresh negative news that has surfaced lately. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver crystallized my stance last week when he told reporters that his league “can’t sit on the sidelines indefinitely.”
That’s not to say sports won’t be forced to hit pause again. Or delay when they start. Or encounter significant disruption in player availability because of positive tests.
Any or all of those options seem plausible right now, perhaps likely. The surge of COVID-19 cases in different states — including Florida, where the NBA, WNBA and MLS will be based — has cast new doubt about whether sports can pull this off in 2020.
“The unknown is really what keeps everybody up at night one way or another,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Monday in a Zoom call in advance of training camp 2.0 that starts this week.
Colleges began allowing athletes back on campus a few weeks ago. Positive tests have been prevalent, forcing schools to quarantine large numbers of athletes and, in a few cases, suspend workouts entirely. Several schools in Division II and III already have canceled fall sports.
Those who believe resuming sports is a bad idea point to the labyrinth of health protocols as reason to continue to pause. If there is concern about whether MLB players spit, doesn’t that suggest the time isn’t right, skeptics argue.
No outcome is guaranteed. In that way, these first few steps feel like an experiment.
The rash of positive tests among college athletes has been a sobering reminder of the pandemic’s grip, even with voluminous safety protocols in place. Seeing those challenges play out underscores how potentially chaotic things will be for coaches and teams in managing day-to-day operation.
Take the Clemson case, for example. The university announced that 47 athletes tested positive, including 37 football players. None of those athletes required hospitalization. About half were asymptomatic. Thankfully, no serious illnesses.
What happens if an outbreak happens during the season? Would that team have enough players available to play a game? That’s assuming there is a season, or that a season starts on time.
This is where my optimism is dwindling.
College football teams are currently holding voluntary workouts in small groups, and we’re seeing double-digit cases of positive tests in different programs. Is it realistic to think they will be in position to hold a full-scale practice in August? I hope so, but reality might yield a different conclusion.
Twins players and staff members are undergoing testing this week before their first workout. Baldelli said Monday that he and management have spent considerable time discussing the inevitability of positive tests and unavailable players.
“We know that’s going to be part of our reality,” Baldelli said. “It’s about managing the entire situation and being of the mentality both players and staff-wise that when it does happen, what do we do next? Not being shocked or not knowing what to do.”
I applaud the organization’s decision to keep coaches Bob McClure (68 years old) and Bill Evers (66) away from the action. Both are still on the payroll. They will have other roles.
Take the decision out of their hands. It’s unfortunate, but the smart move, considering their age. Teams in all sports leagues should minimize risk for vulnerable employees as best they can.
Nothing will be perfect about this. There are so many obstacles and unknowns that it’s difficult to envision the picture a month or more from now. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by any outcome.