There’s a lot going on in the country right now. It’s understandable if a major bit of sports news was relegated to the sidelines Monday.
But that doesn't make the first, full-contact pro sports practice to take place in the United States since mid-March any less monumental. And it happened in Foxboro when the New England Revolution hit the field around 9 a.m for a full workout.
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Other MLS teams followed suit as the day went on, but the fact that the first practice happened in Massachusetts — possibly the most cautious state in the country in terms of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic — makes it a bit of a milestone on two fronts.
First, with all the major sports eyeing each other to see what’s the right move, MLS took the first steps that the NBA, NHL and NFL will eventually follow in (who knows about MLB). They are the canaries in the coalmine.
Second, it means the Revs came up with a working plan to satisfy state and local officials in what has been a land of “No” since mid-March.
Speaking before Tuesday’s practice, Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner explained the process a player goes through from the time he pulls into the parking lot until he hits the field.
“I wait in my car until I get the OK to leave my car,” Turner began. “Come inside, I have my mask on. They take your temperature. If your temperature is low enough, you pass.
“Walk up the stairs and then you have to do a nasal swab,” he continued. “From there, you can go into the locker room. Every locker is socially distanced and the rules are, 'Don’t spend too much time in the locker room.' So I go in, I change, I come out and make room for the next guy to get out of his car and come into the locker room.
We have our player lounge where all the chairs are six feet apart, maybe more. That’s where most guys will hang out. Everyone will have his little seat and chair. Everywhere while you’re in the facility you have to have your mask on. Anytime you leave a room or enter a room you have to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. Once you step out the door and onto the field you can take your mask off and then it’s full contact. You go back inside, put your mask back on, shower, all that stuff and it’s in waves and then you can leave for the day.
Did he find the process cumbersome?
“A little bit, but it’s what it has to be right now,” he said.
I asked Turner about the obvious inconsistency in keeping everyone masked and socially distant inside only to have guys maskless and running at, into, and next to when they get on the field.
“It minimizes the full exposure,” Turner countered. “I don’t touch every single player on the field during practice. So if someone were to test positive, there’s a good chance that not everybody came in contact with him. As opposed to hanging out in a very confined space in the locker room. I’m no scientist but that’s just what I assume.”
There was some trepidation on Monday, Turner said.
“We weren’t sure what it was going to look like and we were a little bit nervous just getting going,” he said. “But the club left no stone unturned and they really made the players feel safe about the testing protocols.”
What was he specifically nervous about?
“The fear of the unknown,” he said. “Somebody tests positive, what does that mean for the rest of the team? Will we all have to go into a two-week lockdown? I think those nerves (were there) and also, did we forget how to play soccer after being away for three months?
“So all those things … the fear of the unknown were put to rest,” he said. “We had a really good day of training and the club is really taking care of us making sure everybody feels safe and everybody’s family feels safe as well.”
Given the nature of the virus, the player isn’t the only one who needs to “feel safe” as sports returns. As Turner alluded to, family, friends — anyone a player may come into close physical contact with — will have concerns.
It’s impossible for every person in in every circle to have all their fears allayed. But Turner got an important vote of confidence from his sister, a nurse in hard-hit New York City.
“She’s all right with it,” he said. “I told her all these testing protocols we have going on so she’s at ease with it. Her life is returning to some normalcy as well. She’s ready for me to get back out on the field so she can support us.”
What the Revs and the rest of the MLS are doing right now is going to be closely watched by every other sport.
What works? What doesn’t? How do you best execute safety procedures but also get a bunch of guys on the practice field ASAP to prepare for the highest level of competition?
Obviously, the Patriots will benefit greatly from what the Revolution learn. And the Revs were put in a great spot to learn because of the knowledge Jonathan Kraft brings with him from his work with as chair of the Board of Trustees as Massachusetts General Hospital.
“They know what it takes,” Turner said of the Kraft family. “Jonathan does a ton with MGH so he’s very well read and understands the protocols and the things that need to happen in order for us to get back to play. The donations (of PPE masks) that they made to people in New York City, that hit close to home for me. My sister’s a nurse in New York City so all those things made me proud to be a member of this organization.”