As news continues to break this week regarding restarts of major United States sports leagues, a different report out of Japan shows how complicated and tenuous any resumption of play still is.
Two players in Japan’s top professional baseball league reportedly have tested positive for coronavirus — including the reigning Central League MVP, Hayato Sakamoto — as the Nippon Professional Baseball league ramps up training with games just over two weeks away from a scheduled resumption on June 19.
As a result of the positive tests for the players, both from the Yomiuri Giants (who are considered the Yankees of Japan), an exhibition game has been postponed in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.
This is notable as both Major League Soccer and the NBA move swiftly toward plans for resuming play while Major League Baseball maybe works toward a deal.
MLS approved a deal to resume play later this summer with a World Cup style tournament in Orlando; the NBA is expected on Thursday to approve a resumption of play for 22 teams — also in Orlando.
Leagues in the U.S. and beyond have been operating under the notion that one positive test won’t keep teams from continuing to push forward, and indeed other leagues like German soccer’s Bundesliga have begun playing even after having multiple positive tests. The English Premier League is also still on schedule to start in two weeks despite several positive tests.
But little discussion seems to have taken place around the threshold for what would alter plans or halt play. What if, even with extensive testing, there’s an outbreak that goes beyond isolated cases? What if a prominent player in a U.S. league gets coronavirus?
Sakamoto, pictured above playing in Tuesday’s exhibition game, might not be the equivalent of, say, LeBron James. But he’s a very high profile player in his league. If LeBron was stricken with coronavirus and had to miss multiple weeks of play while also risking developing serious health complications, would the NBA change its course?
And, if we are being honest: Is it really a great idea to send all of these athletes to Orlando, even in a so-called bubble, if Florida just had its single biggest surge in new coronavirus cases in six weeks on Wednesday (1,317 positive tests)?
And, you know, the United States is dealing with far more serious issues with nationwide protests calling for much-needed social justice reform — long overdue, to be sure, but nothing that was being considered when a lot of these plans to resume play were initially being constructed.
The cumulative weight of it all can lead quickly to a conclusion that sports should just stay on the backburner and that we don’t need the “distraction” they provide as we wade through far more serious issues — or, at the very least, that for as many plans as these leagues try to make they’re still at the mercy of external forces over which they might not have much control.