Jul 5, 2020 - Sports

Sports return stalked by coronavirus

Major League Baseball players elbow bumping during training
Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Austin Meadows bumps elbows Friday during a workout at Tropicana Field. Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports via Reuters

When MLB teams arrived at the ballpark this weekend for the first summer workouts of 2020, the comforting sounds of baseball brought smiles to players' faces.

Between the lines: Even the loudest crack of the bat couldn't mask the eerie silence or distract from the ever-present coronavirus threat.

  • Virus cases are surging in Florida ahead of planned restarts for the NBA and Major League Soccer.
  • NFL player reps pushed back on opening plans on a call Thursday, asking why they're rushing back if the virus is such a threat, ESPN reported.

As baseball's spring training began in summer, players stayed 6 feet apart.

  • Players stayed 6 feet apart wherever possible, virtually no staff members were on the field, clubhouse attendants cleaned balls with disinfectant after use, and masked reporters watched from the empty stands.
  • 31 players and seven staff tested positive for COVID-19, an encouragingly low percentage (1.2% of 3,185 tests). 19 teams had at least one player test positive.
  • The Angels' Mike Trout, baseball's best player and an expecting father, said he still hasn't decided whether to play this season, reflecting the tough personal choices being made around the country.
  • Several players, including Dodgers pitcher David Price and the Nats' Ryan Zimmerman, have already said they won't play.

The big picture: The surging pandemic has cast a shadow over once-optimistic plans at all levels.

  • Professional: Florida shattered its daily coronavirus infections record on Saturday, reporting 11,458 new cases. MLS is scheduled to resume play at Walt Disney World on Wednesday, and NBA teams are scheduled to fly there this week.
  • College: D-I schools continue to report positive tests among student-athletes who returned to campus, and some are requiring athletes to sign COVID-19 liability waivers. Meanwhile, D-II and D-III schools like Williams, Bowdoin, Grinnell and Morehouse College have canceled fall sports.
  • High school: Three weeks into the resumption of high school sports in Iowa, "the early June hopes of coaches, players and parents have turned to nervousness as coronavirus cases and word of possible infections have suspended or halted some summer games," writes ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill.
  • Youth: There is no centralized authority for youth sports, so the industry has responded to COVID-19 in a patchwork fashion, forcing parents to navigate a "confusing smorgasbord of restrictions and recommendations that vary depending on which entity is organizing a particular league or event — sometimes even in the same town," writes USA Today's Tom Schad.

The bottom line: Sports were never going to bring a "sense of normalcy" amid a global pandemic, but now that coronavirus cases are increasing in the majority of states, sports might not even be a "welcome distraction."

  • Instead, there's a sense that the sports world — with its 24-hour news cycle, superstar athletes and constantly rolling cameras — will be one of the most constant reminders of how serious the pandemic remains.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Tufts, not Bowdoin, had canceled fall sports.

Go deeper