By Daniela Alvarez
One of the greatest shocks to the professional sports industry occurred on March 11, 2020 when it was discovered that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert had been infected with the coronavirus. Subsequently, this announcement caused the NBA to postpone all games moving forward, essentially bringing the basketball season to a stunning halt. Across the United States as well as the world, professional sports leagues were put on hold as a result of the pandemic.
Just as it was expected, the lives and well-being of all athletes were prioritized during such an unstable time. Although it was a crushing reality for sports fans to see the cancellation of various different leagues, it was the necessary precaution to take during that time.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the anticipation for the return of sports becomes stronger with each passing day. As more states begin the first steps towards a partial reopening, more begin to wonder when major sports will return, even if games are played without fans in attendance.
Gradually, and to the relief of many who miss their favorite leagues, professional sports are making a return. Both NASCAR and the UFC succeeded in returning and broadcasting their events effectively amid the pandemic.
However, for sports that have a much more notable fan presence such as the NBA and MLB, there is still a level of uncertainty over how these sports will operate normally should they return.
Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo, the governors of California and New York respectively, have both indicated a desire for professional sports to return to their states. This is a rather optimistic outlook for sports in general, especially considering how California and New York have been gravely impacted by the pandemic.
“New York state will help those major sport franchises to do just that. Hockey, basketball, baseball, football, whoever can reopen, we’re a ready, willing, and able partner,” Cuomo said during a televised briefing on May 18.
Similarly, Newsom expressed confidence in the return of sports throughout California, setting the early days of June as an estimate for their resumption. Of course, there would be no fans in attendance and Newsom reiterated that he did not expect sports leagues to welcome fans back into attendance until a vaccine is created for the COVID-19, according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.
The cooperation of both New York and California in regards to bringing back professional sports remains vital. To contextualize, 16 percent of MLB teams can be found in California alone. Not to mention, both New York and California are the hosts to numerous other professional teams within the NHL, MLS, and the NFL as well. If these two states are giving the go-ahead, the return of sports becomes more of a reality everyday.
However, there are still obstacles and setbacks to overcome should sports make an official return. For example, there are some athletes, such as Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays, who expressed hesitancy at the idea of playing, especially if there are salary reductions coupled with the risk of being exposed to the virus. Others, such as Richard Sherman of the San Francisco 49ers, implied that money was the ulterior reason why some governors, especially Newsom, were rushing to bring sports back.
As of now, guidelines and standards are being created by various sports leagues to prepare for the return of professional sports despite the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic. The effectiveness of their return will ultimately depend on the players’ cooperation with these guidelines, as well as the public’s reception of seeing televised sports games without any fans.