Today is July 1, the beginning of a month that may go down in history and be remembered for a long time as the month that major professional sports leagues intended to return to play in the United States and Canada.
Here’s a rundown of what is (intended) to come from pro sports this month:
Major League Baseball is beginning their spring training: summer edition today, dubbed Summer Camp, with the intention of having all 30 major league teams play an abbreviated 60-game season starting on July 23 and 24, ending in September, with a full October postseason. The current plan is for all teams to host games in their home stadiums.
- The National Basketball Association, one of the leagues whose season was interrupted by the pandemic, is set to resume playing on July 30 in Orlando, with 22 of their 30 teams returning to action. The remaining eight teams were either mathematically eliminated from or unlikely to qualify for the postseason. Those eight teams are likely done for 2020.
Major League Soccer, the U.S. and Canada’s largest men’s soccer league, briefly began their season in the spring before shutting down, and on July 8, they expect to resume playing in a tournament format. Like the NBA, MLS will centralize all of their games in Orlando.
- The Women’s National Basketball Association will begin their training camp sometime this month, with the intention of having their 12 teams play an abbreviated 22-game season in their own “clean site” hub city format in Bradenton, Florida. For fans of the New York Liberty, that means that Romanian-American rookie superstar Sabrina Ionescu’s first game in New York City won’t happen until 2021 at the earliest.
- The National Hockey League, the most international of these leagues with seven of their 31 teams based in Canada, is scheduled to have training camp starting July 10, with 24 of their teams returning to play an expanded playoff format instead of resuming their regular season. At the time that I’m publishing this issue, the league has not announced any specific plans for a single “clean site” hub city or any other format.
- The National Football League is currently expected to undergo their regularly scheduled summer training camps at the end of the month, with the intention of having a perfectly normal, unaffected fall season…
- The National Women’s Soccer League resumed playing last Saturday, with eight of their nine teams competing in a tournament format. The ninth team in the league, the Orlando Pride, withdrew after several team members tested positive for the virus before the tournament.
And that right there is the rub, isn’t it?
I say intend to return because I’m unconvinced it all goes off without a hitch.
How could I expect these plans to play out unaffected? How could anyone?
Can sports fans or anyone else reasonably have any concrete expectations one way or another for anything as logistically complex as organizing a professional sports league (or seven) in the midst of a global pandemic?
How are all of the fans, players, coaches, team and league personnel, and countless other members of these organizations expected to confidently feel safe and secure from any potential team- or league-wide outbreaks?
How are the families of those who work in these industries supposed to feel safe? The NBA, WNBA, MLS, and NWSL are operating under the clean site hub/bubble city format, with most team/league personnel expected to remain inside the hub until their respective seasons conclude. I’m skeptical.
My thoughts often go to the high-risk partners and close family members.
This obviously hits home for me. I don’t want my own high-risk partner
anywhere near a potentially risky place of work, and it isn’t theoretical for us.
For years I’ve worked in the sports industry, operating out of a New York City office. NYC was hit hard by the virus in the spring and, for now, they appear to have it mostly under control, despite several early, costly, tragic missteps.
I respect how difficult it is to make decisions on how to operate in these uncertain times that affect the lives of dozens, thousands, millions of people.
I do respect the optimism about returning to normalcy. But this optimism needs to be grounded in logistical realities. The pandemic response may be improving in New York, but when anyone ventures out of their own clean site hub, more variables come into play, and they aren’t easily fully accounted for.
There are thousands of families affected by these sports leagues intending to return to play. This is obvious and not uncommon, of course. I imagine there are few Americans who have not been affected by return-to-work efforts.
Just one example: Mike Trout is the best baseball player in the world. He and his wife Jessica are expecting their first child due in August. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to be by her side when their son is born, or whether he will have to choose between his job and his family. The Trout family is among the countless families expecting during the pandemic.
Sports have been a big part of my life since childhood, and I feel fortunate to be earning a living in the sports industry, as I have for the better part of seven years. There was a time before I grew up and grew out of strong emotional attachments to winning and losing sports games where sports were my life.
I love sports. I love the joy that they bring to millions. I love the pride we have in our local and national teams. I’m sure we’d have pride in our global teams, too, if we end up playing a space Olympics against other planets and galaxies.
I have vivid memories of watching the Montreal Expos play baseball. Les Expos de Montréal haven’t played a single game since 2004, after which the National League franchise of 36 years relocated to Washington D.C.
I didn’t grow up rooting for the Montreal Expos as a young fan, but it amazes me that it’s already been over a decade and a half that the Expos became the Washington Nationals. It reminds me of the finite nature of life and baseball.
In 2004, in their final season in Montreal, the Expos drafted a high school player named Ian Desmond. In 2005, now in their inaugural season in Washington, the Nationals drafted a college player named Ryan Zimmerman.
Both Desmond and Zimmerman have had successful careers in Major League Baseball, winning awards and making a couple of All-Star teams apiece. Both are still active, with Desmond currently a Colorado Rockie and Zimmerman playing his entire career in Washington, winning the 2019 championship.
Both players publicly announced in late June that they will not play in 2020. Both players cited their families as reasons for opting out of playing this year.