It’s manageable if you’re willing to accept that COVID-19 outbreaks will become as routine in sports as a ground ball to third. It’s manageable if you don’t mind that athletes—not just highly paid professionals but also, in the case of college football, amateurs working for free—will be risking their health primarily to feed the billion-dollar economies they’ve created. And, of course, to entertain.
The coronavirus crisis now developing in pro baseball is what happens when financially motivated wishful thinking is stamped out by unavoidable reality. The odds of MLB being able to have a season free of COVID-19 were minuscule, especially since the players are on the road traveling. Even when they’re home, they are tasked with behaving wisely and avoiding situations that will make them vulnerable to contracting the virus. It also didn’t help that the players, owners, and Manfred all seemed to dismiss the idea of playing inside a bubble pretty quickly, because it seemed inconvenient.
What would be far more inconvenient, and embarrassing, is if the season had to be canceled because baseball’s approach failed spectacularly. So far, 21 members of the Florida Marlins organization—18 of whom are players—have tested positive for the coronavirus. Six players from the Cardinals had positive tests.
The Marlins, according to an MLB internal investigation, were supposedly lax in following safety protocols and exercising common sense. While visiting Atlanta for an away game, the players reportedly went out to enjoy the Atlanta nightlife. Even though Major League Baseball’s operations manual discourages players from going to bars and large gatherings, some of the Marlins apparently decided to do so anyway.
While the players do bear some responsibility, they are operating within a framework that is bound to fail. What’s happening in Major League Baseball is just a microcosm of what’s happening across America. This country’s response to the coronavirus has been disastrous because of poor, incompetent leadership at the national and state levels. More than 4.6 million Americans have become infected with the coronavirus. Basic safety precautions have been manipulated into a political issue. What hope does sports have in trying to coexist with this pandemic?
The NBA’s example certainly has fooled people in some other sports into thinking that coexistence is easy. But the NBA’s success has to do with exhaustive preparation, extraordinary leadership from Commissioner Adam Silver, and a lot of luck. The NBA reportedly spent $150 million to develop its bubble. While that won’t make the projected loss of $1 billion in revenue related to ticket sales sting any less, pro basketball has proved that there is an effective way to play sports in this pandemic if you’re committed to safety.