The Coronavirus has prompted changes in almost all aspects of our lives. Advice by government officials, as well as medical professionals have also brought about acute changes in the way we conduct our lives on a daily basis. Nobody has been spared, but few choose to dismiss the advice and proceed with life as if a pandemic never hit. The sports world has had its trials with the virus and made adjustments to ensure the safety of the players and fans.

On March 11, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the Coronavirus, and the NBA decided to suspend their game against Oklahoma City, along with the rest of the evenings schedule. Fans in attendance were stunned when they were notified about the cancellation. The following day, the commissioner, Adam Silver made the difficult decision to indefinitely postpone the season

Following discussions with medical personnel, the NBA Players Association, and team owners, an agreement was reached for a restart. But even that was put into question on May 25 when George Floyd was murdered at the hands of Minneapolis police. The incident re-ignited discussions on racial inequality, sparked protests (in which some NBA players participated), and shone a light on the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Players even wondered if they should return to play. Once again, discussions were held.

The NBA provided details on the return to play format on June 26. There would be testing for everyone -players, sideline reporters and announcers, and games would occur in a bubble. The league resumed at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, in Orlando, and only 22 out of the 30 teams were allowed to play. This was done to reduce the amount of people inside the complex. The teams chosen were either in the playoffs or were fighting to get in. The players benefitted from this as well. They negotiated to have the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on the courts along with social justice messages printed on the back of their jerseys, and were provided a platform to address racial injustice issues.

A significant story broke just minutes before Game 5 of the opening round series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic. On August 23, 2020, another black man, Jacob Blake, of Kenosha, Wisconsin was shot by police. The Bucks boycotted the game. Every other player in the league, and ownership supported the team. After a few days of contentious discussions, players resumed the games, knowing they were fighting for more than just a championship. Following a Clippers victory over the Dallas Mavericks, coach Doc Rivers uttered a memorable quote, which I believe describes how Black people continue to feel in America: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”

The Los Angeles Lakers won the 17th NBA Championship by defeating the Miami Heat in six games. They achieved their goal without home court advantage, and being away from their families for many months. It was mentioned in the post- game interview that while winning the title meant a lot to them, the championship was a way to honor the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who perished in a plane crash earlier in the year.

The NBA did a fantastic job of handling the adversities of the pandemic and racial injustice. Despite Orlando being a hot spot for the virus, nobody tested positive. If anyone left the bubble, including announcers and reporters, they had to isolate in their hotel rooms for a few days. Again, these stringent rules and testing protocols proved to be successful and gave fans a feeling of normalcy when they needed it the most.

Once the NBA paused their season, so did the NHL. Decisions had to made about whether to complete their season, and what would be required to do so. After much discussion with the NHL, the Player’s Association, and medical personnel, Edmonton and Toronto hosted the games and testing protocols were in place for the players and the announcers. The league decided to restart on August 1. Those two cities were agreed upon because Coronavirus numbers were very low at that time.

After a grueling two months of action in both hub cities, the Tampa Bay Lighting emerged as Stanley Cup Champions defeating the Dallas Stars in six games, in Edmonton. Like the NBA, there were no fans in attendance. The NHL did not have virtual fans – instead just fake crowd noise. I still found the games enjoyable despite the absence of a crowd. The only thing that stopped play was the same thing that paused the NBA for a couple of days.

When the Milwaukee Bucks halted their league’s playoffs to address racial injustice, many expected the NHL to immediately do the same. They did, but only at the request of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. The league played their games the day the NBA playoffs stopped, and everyone including hockey commentators showed their disapproval. The next day, they stopped for a couple days. Remaining players in both hubs sat together and addressed racial issues. They emphasized that hockey is for everyone and there is a long way to go to achieve equality. The NHL should have stopped play when the NBA did. Nobody would have questioned the decision. It would have also shown that despite competition, both leagues are on the same side.

After months of tenuous negotiations between Major League baseball and its Players Association, the season began on July 23 with a reduced 60 game season and Coronavirus testing for all teams. The Toronto Blue Jays had an additional worry as the Canadian government would not allow the team to use the Rogers Centre to host games because it would mean opening up borders for the teams from the US participating in the season. It probably would also increase the spread of the virus in Toronto. So, the Jays were forced to look for locations to play their home games. They communicated with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but that did not work out – they did not want to share their stadiums, and understandably so. The team utilized their training facility in Buffalo as their regular season home.

Unfortunately, there were outbreaks with the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals. Games had to be rescheduled and those teams, along with teams who played them had to be tested. Despite those challenges, the league got through the season. The playoffs were expanded to make up for the reduced schedule, and occurred at bubble locations. The wild card series occurred at the home field of the higher seeds, and the remaining rounds took place in the cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas. The World Series was played between Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers. What a hard fought and exciting six game series it turned out to be which saw the Los Angeles Dodgers emerge as champions of baseball, for the first time since 1988. I am sure that once it is safe for Los Angeles to hold large gatherings again, a celebration will occur to honor the Lakers and Dodgers.

The NFL began its season on Sept 10, 2020, as scheduled. The opener featured the Houston Texans visiting the defending champions, Kansas City Chiefs. Prior to kickoff, the two teams converged at midfield and locked arms to protest racial injustice. It was a great moment, with a great message…but some of the fans who were in attendance booed. I do not understand why anyone would disapprove of a moment like that. It showed unity. Unity is something we all need today. There is a need for more compassion and empathy in today’s world.

The first three weeks of the season went as planned. Some stadiums had crowds capped at 10-25 percent capacity to comply with distancing guidelines. Despite that, in Week 4 signs of the virus surfaced within the Tennessee Titans organization. Their training facilities were shut down. Testing and contact tracing were conducted. After weeks of investigations, it was determined that the members of the Titans organization did not wear masks, and there were players in training during the outbreak. The team was fined by the league for violation of protocols. Over the past few weeks the NFL has seen many of its players test positive, which resulted in them being placed on the Covid 19 list. I think the penalties should have been stiffer – taking away draft picks or maybe forfeiting a game.

Fans know another major breakout will likely occur. The league already adjusted their schedule once because of the Titans and because of a minor outbreak within the New England Patriots. They will likely have to adjust schedules again in the weeks to come, and maybe even push the Superbowl back a few weeks. I think the NFL is taking this seriously. They want to complete the season – even if it means making teams play during the week. The league is doing everything they can to keep all involved as safe as possible, and that includes fines for coaches who do not adhere to the stipulated guidelines. If everyone does their part – owners, coaches, and players, the league will achieve its goal and complete the season on time.

With the return of professional sports, fans are able to get their fill of action and excitement. The NHL and NBA seasons have completed their seasons in bubble locations. Nobody knows for sure when the next NHL or NBA season will begin, and if fans will be allowed to attend. I know the NBA only has one Canadian team -the Toronto Raptors. With the borders likely remaining closed for the foreseeable future, I think the team and the league will come to an agreement on a location for at least part of next season. The border closure will impact the NHL more because there are more Canadian teams.

The lack of fans early on, the cardboard cutouts and fake crowd noise have become part of sports for the time being. Some NFL stadiums are now allowing a few hundred or a few thousand fans in stands. They are seated in a way to adhere to distancing protocols.

In closing, I would like to urge everyone to please remember to keep a safe distance from others, and wear masks when unable to avoid physical and social distancing, wash your hands as often as possible. This could be the new normal for a while. Nobody knows when or if this virus will go away. We must stay vigilant. Remember, to keep safe and keep others safe. This too shall pass.

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