President Trump held a conference call on the state of the coronavirus pandemic with commissioners of America’s major sports leagues Saturday.
The White House deemed the call off the record, according to the AP, but other reports indicated that in the course of the call, Trump said he believed the NFL should start on time in September. He also told commissioners he hopes to have fans back in arenas by August, though it’s uncertain yet whether medical experts will agree with the viability of that timeframe.
Donald Trump also told commissioners that he hopes to have fans back in stadiums and arenas by August and September, sources said, though it is currently unclear if medical experts find that to be a realistic timeline amid the current coronavirus pandemic. https://t.co/EFqDryGlTQ
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 4, 2020
A pool report of the call indicated that its purpose was “to discuss the all-of-America response to COVID-19.” According to the report, “the president recognized the good work being done by many teams and players to care for their communities, workforces, and fan bases across the nation.” The president, the report added, “encouraged them to continue to support their fellow Americans during this challenging time.”
President Trump confirmed during a news conference later Saturday that the call included: the NBA’s Adam Silver, the WNBA’s Cathy Engelbert, MLB’s Rob Manfred, the NFL’s Roger Goodell, the NHL’s Gary Bettman, the PGA Tour’s Jay Monahan, the LPGA’s Michael Whan, the UFC’s Dana White, WWE’s Vince McMahon, IndyCar’s Roger Penske, the Breeders Cup’s Drew Fleming, and MLS’s Don Garber. From the Trump administration, advisors Kellyanne Conway and Andrew Giuliani were on the call.
McMahon’s presence on the list was interesting but not surprising. While WWE isn’t a professional sports league — it’s “sports entertainment” — McMahon himself has been a longtime friend of the president. Trump had appeared in WWE storylines over the years prior to his term in office. WWE’s Wrestlemania 36 will take place this weekend on pay-per-view.
Like McMahon, White has been seeking to keep a sense of normalcy around his operations in profoundly abnormal times. UFC 249 is slated to take place in two weeks at a still-undisclosed location, even though one of the headliners, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is trapped in Russia at the moment because of closed borders.
White and Monahan are among those who have spoken with the president in recent weeks. On March 13, as sports across the country were closing down, White recounted what the president and vice president told him in their call.
“They’re saying be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking,” he said at the time. “Everybody is panicking and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how we keep the sport safe and continue to put on events.”
Sports that were in progress at the time of the pandemic outbreak have seen their seasons indefinitely suspended. The NBA and NHL continue to insist that their seasons will resume, and NASCAR plans to hold all of its races over the course of a compressed schedule.
Golf, however, has canceled many tournaments outright. The NFL continues to insist it will operate on its previously defined schedule, including the annual draft later this month and the season kickoff on Sept. 10. Trump apparently agreed with that timeframe for the NFL:
In conference call with major league sports commissioners on Saturday, President Donald Trump said he believes the NFL season should start on time in September, sources familiar with the call told @wojespn and me. More on call coming at https://t.co/rDZaVFhcDQ.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 4, 2020
However, Trump’s hopes and medical reality may conflict. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has indicated he doesn’t believe the season will start on time with fans in the stands:
On his daily press briefing just now @GavinNewsom tells me flatly re #NFL starting season on time w/fans in stands in the CA stadiums: "I’m not anticipating that happening in this state." @AdamSchefter https://t.co/ejqC423Vtk
— Ronald Brownstein (@RonBrownstein) April 4, 2020
Going forward, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, it’s possible that leagues will be able to lead an economic recovery:
NBA commissioner Adam Silver told those on Trump conference call that the leagues were the first to shut down and that they would love to lead the way in starting the economy once there was an “all clear” from public health officials, sources familiar with call told ESPN. https://t.co/SXmvzhLtAP
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 4, 2020
According to ESPN sources, Trump also suggested leagues could lobby for tax credits to allow fans to deduct concessions and ticket costs from their taxes.
While commissioners, players and fans are eager for games to restart, the truth is that there are substantial hurdles remaining to opening gates and welcoming back fans into games. The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, noted the scope of this problem earlier this week: “As long as we’re still in a place where a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport. Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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