Major League Baseball launched its 2020 season Thursday. Unlike the NBA, which plans to resume play this week within a single-site “bubble” environment in an Orlando, Florida, athletic complex, MLB chose to play games somewhat normally, with players living at home and traveling back and forth to different cities to compete in (empty) major league stadiums.
This approach is not working. From an ESPN report about the Miami Marlins:
Miami just completed a series in Philadelphia, and seven more players and two coaches with the Marlins tested positive for the coronavirus. An outbreak has spread throughout their clubhouse and brought the total cases in recent days to at least 13, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers.
The Marlins, after completing their first series of the year against the Philadelphia Phillies, are now stranded in Philadelphia after having canceled their flight home (presumably because putting the entire team inside a plane for several hours would only hasten the spread of the disease). The Phillies’ scheduled Monday game against the New York Yankees has been “postponed.” In Boston, pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez has been diagnosed with inflammation of the heart; he had previously tested positive for COVID-19.
These developments, though they have escalated quickly, are not surprising; the group of critics who didn’t believe that MLB’s protocols would be able to keep players safe included several high-profile players who opted out of participating in the season. Playing baseball in empty stadiums, it turns out, doesn’t prevent the coronavirus from spreading uncontrollably, it just means the virus spreads uncontrollably among a smaller group of people.
In addition to calling into question whether MLB will be able to successfully complete its season, or even complete a week of that season, the Marlins outbreak has unfortunate relevance to the NFL and NCAA, both of which have been planning to play football games in the fall using the same approach that baseball is attempting. (As I was writing this post, the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings announced that their team’s head athletic trainer, who had been designated as the organization’s “Infection Control Officer,” has tested positive.) Baseball clubhouses, moreover, are not that different from school classrooms, and if 30 pro sports teams can’t prevent COVID-19 transmission, thousands of underfunded public schools will not likely be able to either. Bringing groups of individuals together indoors for long periods, however beneficial such events may be practically, economically, or spiritually, is still not safe in the United States. As go the Miami Marlins, so go we all.
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