Major League Baseball’s owners have reportedly approved a return-to-play proposal that targets an early-July start to the 2020 season, just under two months after the coronavirus pandemic forced league officials to suspend spring training and subsequently push back Opening Day.
While there are still many obstacles standing in the way of players taking the field again—chief among them, securing the players union’s approval of the proposal—the biggest unknown surrounding the feasibility of such a plan.
Over the next few weeks, MLB and the union will be tasked with determining how to protect those involved in every aspect of the sport from both contracting the novel coronavirus and spreading it further.
Nationals closer Sean Doolittle weighed in Monday with a thread of tweets breaking down the areas he hopes MLB plans to address before starting the season.
Bear with me, but it feels like we've zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season. Here are some things I'll be looking for in the proposal...— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) May 11, 2020
Among the topics Doolittle discussed were…
- Health experts are still trying to understand what the long-term effects of contracting coronavirus might be. Some symptoms, such as permanent lung damage, are particularly concerning for professional athletes. Others, like fertility complications, are worrisome for anyone.
- Coronavirus spreads quickly among people who share indoor spaces. Will MLB consider modifying the layouts of clubhouses in order to ensure players are practicing proper social distancing?
- Those infected with coronavirus are contagious before they begin to show symptoms. How often will MLB test its players and employees in order to avoid spreading the disease as much as possible? Will everyone be tested daily even if they aren’t showing symptoms?
- How many tests will MLB need? Running a professional sport requires many more people than just players. As Doolittle points out, “coaches, clubhouse staff, security, grounds crews, umpires, gameday stadium staff, TV & media” would all need to be included in testing. And that doesn’t even include those who don’t work directly for MLB such as hotel workers, flight attendants, etc.
- What is the level of risk MLB is willing to assume? If a player or employee becomes infected and is seriously affected, will that be enough to shut the sport down?
- While most professional athletes have strong respiratory systems, there are many players with underlying health issues. Will those players be handled with greater caution? What will be done to protect them?
- If the players do agree to return to the field amid a global pandemic, will they receive the assurance of broader and lifelong health insurance?
- There is still the potential for a second wave of infections. What will MLB do if the number of cases begins to rise exponentially?
- Can the required number of tests needed to safely start the season be acquired ethically?
- If a player or employee does contract coronavirus, what will the protocol be?
Doolittle is far from the only player with these concerns, and the answers to many of those questions will likely determine whether or not baseball is played in 2020.
Oh, and he wanted to make sure something was clear.
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