Major League Baseball is officially back on, but COVID-19 continues to put players in difficult positions.
According to MLB’s 101-page COVID-19 operations manual, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo Sports, players who are designated as high-risk by a team doctor will be able to opt out of the season and still receive service time and salary, but MLB will not universally extend the same benefits to players who wish to opt out due to a high-risk family member.
Pay and service time for players not designated high-risk themselves is not addressed in the manual, though The Athletic reports that teams will get to decide whether or not to pay those players.
This is contrary to what was originally reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, who tweeted that players with high-risk family members, including a pregnant spouse, would be able to opt out of the season but still be paid.
MLB’s policy isn’t that much different than what the NBA is doing for its Orlando restart, as players who opt out of that will also be giving up salary. MLB’s plan, however, requires players to assume vastly more risk. The NBA is resuming its season in a highly monitored “bubble” at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports campus, with players and their families staying in hotels while their movements are logged. MLB’s plan includes no bubble (and therefore less monitoring) and lots of regional travel, which puts the onus on the players to keep themselves healthy while they’re required to do things things in inherently risky environments.
This policy puts a number of MLB players in tough positions. Some of the sport’s brightest and most popular stars have pregnant wives due to give birth in the next few months, including Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler. Some others have a family member with an underlying health condition that makes them more susceptible to the effects of the coronavirus.
Eireann Dolan, who is married to Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, has asthma, and she’s been very outspoken about the tough choice that she and her husband have to make. If he plays, he’s putting her at risk of catching COVID-19, or they’ll have to be separated for the duration of the season. If he doesn’t play, he’ll be giving up service time and salary.
They can’t really say no, though. Because it effectively takes away service time. For all of 2020. Not just July-September. It reverts their service time to what it was at the end of last season. It’s almost punitive for those with a high risk family member or a pregnant spouse.— Eireann Dolan (@EireannDolan) June 24, 2020
This is something that made the rounds among players and families who were extremely concerned about high risk family members or pregnant spouses. Imagine the disappointment when we fact checked it.— Eireann Dolan (@EireannDolan) June 24, 2020
The manual agreed upon by the league and players union Tuesday night does include a section about families and household members, but only pledges to provide them with personal protective equipment, testing and education:
The health and wellbeing of family members of players, umpires, and other Club personnel is paramount to MLB. MLB will provide family members or other members of Covered Individuals’ households with appropriate PPE, education, and access to regular testing (see Section 2.1.5 above). Team Physicians should also offer to advise on (or assist with arrangements for) the care and treatment of any family or household members who are symptomatic or have come into close contact with a Covered Individual who tests positive for COVID-19.
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