For all the talk about when some sports will return, teams still need players.
Understandably, the thought of playing during the coronavirus pandemic has many layers. Players want to get back to work, but they all understand there is no way to eliminate the health risk without a vaccine.
“I think moving forward, I think we all have fears,” New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty said, via the Boston Herald. “I think for me, the fear of going back to work is no different than the fear of walking in a restaurant and sitting down to have dinner.”
It’s hard to believe every player in all the major sports will agree to play. In a video chat of the union leaders for the NFL, MLB and NBA with Bryant Gumbel on HBO’s “Real Sports,” National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said she has heard from NBA players who are concerned about resuming play, which has dampened her optimism on the season restarting soon.
Major League Baseball Players Association leader Tony Clark and National Football League Players Association head DeMaurice Smith acknowledged the possibility of players opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns.
While there has been renewed excitement about games returning, it’s still unclear what the players’ reaction will be.
Players will face inevitable risk
Leagues can be as safe as possible, but they can’t guarantee nobody will be infected. Players will have to consider that when leagues reopen.
“I think as players, we’re going to go through the same fears that a lot of other people in our country are going to go through,” McCourty said. “You’re going to have to figure it out the best way. When they tell us to come back to work, we have to as individuals make sure, ‘Hey, to my standard, I feel that this is safe enough. I’m ready to commit to it. I’m ready to do it.’ If not, you’ve got to go about whatever you feel is best for your family.”
On “Real Sports,” the union leaders didn’t run away from the risks their players will face.
“For all of us, taking a look at the risk factors that are inherent in this virus – high body mass index, disparate impact on African Americans for this disease,” Smith said in the HBO interview, which was taped May 21. “How do you take a sport that is somewhat inherently dangerous and put it into the context of a pandemic, where you necessarily are doing things that will expose people to everything from droplets of vapor to contact?”
The NBA has constant contact during a game, with much less protective equipment than the NFL.
“From the players’ point of view, I have to accept there is no vaccine, are the risks sufficient that I’m prepared to playing knowing there’s no guarantee I won’t be infected?” Roberts told HBO. “We’re still trying to come to an answer to that question. The best we can do is come up with the best protocol for mitigating risk that we possibly can.”
How confident are union leaders for 2020 games?
Everyone wants games back. That was apparent Tuesday, when the NHL’s announced plan to return for the playoffs was celebrated. But is it the same game if a significant number of key players sit out?
Clark said it’s “important” that players have the ability to opt out of the season if they’re worried about contracting COVID-19.
“Having the option to make that decision for yourself and your family is something that has to be considered,” Clark said.
Gumbel brought up an example of a game happening with multiple players from each team opting out, and Smith thought that was possible.
“Certainly,” Smith said. “Just about everything is possible, just about every scenario is possible and we’re going to be making a lot of decisions based on up-to-the-minute information that we have.”
Gumbel asked each union head how confident they were, on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being absolutely certain, that games would happen in their sport before the end of 2020. Clark said 8.5. Smith said between a 6 and 7 for the NFL, acknowledging that a lot depended on what happens with MLB and NBA.
“I’ll give you a 6. It was probably an 8 last week,” Roberts told Gumbel. “I’ve gotten recent concerns from players.”
There are a lot of hurdles before games return. The players agreeing to return despite inevitable risk is one of the biggest.
“If it’s not sufficiently safe, it’s not sufficiently consistent with the best health guidelines we can come up, there will be no games,” Roberts said.
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