No area of society has gone untouched by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including sports. After every level of athletics was rocked by the virus and forced to shut down in the spring, professional leagues have figured out ways to return to their fields of play in as safe a manner as possible. Meanwhile, decisions are still being made on the collegiate, high school and youth levels about when and how sports will return.
In our Playing Through COVID series, NBC Sports Washington will tell the story of those decisions and how they impact the people involved, including athletes, coaches, parents and more. The series launched with an interview of Dr. Sunil Budhrani, ER Physician, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Innovation Health. Watch the full interview here.
As education officials around the country have tried to grapple with how to resume childhood education without risking further spread of the coronavirus, decisions made on sports seasons have come secondary to the educational and safety needs of school systems.
In the DMV, fall sports have been postponed in both Maryland and Virginia as well as Washington, D.C. The announcements followed heavily favored decisions to implement distance learning this school year, with students attending classes remotely so as to avoid unnecessary contact with classmates, teachers and staff members.
CEO of Innovation Health Dr. Sunil Budhrani sat down with NBC Sports Washington’s Chad Ricardo on Wednesday as part of the Playing Through COVID series and talked about how the decision to use distance learning ultimately led to the cancellation of fall sports.
“It’s important to recognize in that level of sports…how intimately tied sports and education is,” Dr. Budhrani said. “Once the decision was made for almost most of this region to go distance learning, that almost directly affected how sports [were] going to be played in this region for a number of reasons.
“One is, the mental bandwidth that went towards figuring out how to open up the education for students has been so occupied that sports [have] become the secondary impact…How do you get your kids in school so they can get a good educational environment and a safe educational environment? So all those folks -- the health department, the administrators, the teachers, parents -- they have an extremely challenging issue when it comes to trying to figure out how to create that safe environment.”
The decisions involved were important ones, affecting thousands of people within each school district. Dr. Budhrani believes that the crossover in thinking of some coaches who also work as teachers or administrators pushed them to act more cautiously.
“The decision to go distance learning by most municipalities in this region directly affects the sports part because a lot of the teachers are often coaches,” Dr. Budhrani said. “And you also have a lot of people that not only are coaches [but] administrators who think about what their seasons are going to look like, occupying their mind to figure out what their virtual school is going to look like.”
Even as the DMV shows progress in limiting the number of cases in the area, administrators feared undoing all the work they’d done by allowing students to return to sports fields, courts and gyms.
“Health officials and the administrators collectively recognized the cases are going up. There’s no doubt about that,” Dr. Budhrani said. “We’re fortunate and we’ve done a fantastic job in this region keeping the hospitalizations down. But with cases still going up, we take a very great risk in not only opening up schools physically, but that connects with sports directly.
“To get kids on a field, to get close contact with each other, with teachers/coaches who are involved in this process, puts them at the same if not greater risk than if they were in a classroom because of that close exposure you have in potentially spreading the virus if that makes sense.”
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