The most alarming thing about the video that shows Dallas Goedert getting sucker-punched in South Dakota, besides the sucker punch, is that nobody on camera is wearing a mask. The Eagles tight end is confronting a guy in a bar less than 6 inches away from his possibly COVID-addled mouth. It’s as if the United States isn’t still in the depths of a 100-year pandemic.
This isn’t meant to chastise Goedert; not exactly, anyway. Rather, this is meant to point out that many people will ignore recommendations like those from the South Dakota Department of Health, and they will act carelessly, and they will contract COVID-19. Some of these many people will be athletes. They already are.
A dozen Phillies employees, seven of them players, have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week, more than one-quarter of the reported 47 positive tests in Major League Baseball as of Wednesday. PGA Tour golfers Nick Watney and Cameron Champ tested positive and the Tour has only held two events. Almost 100 college athletes have tested positive since they returned to campus, mostly football players, including at least 28 football players from Alabama, Clemson, and LSU, the schools that won the last five national championships.
This is the new normal. Any industry that restarts with in-person interaction will feed the virus. If the four major sports leagues expect to reopen before a vaccine is developed, mass-produced, and mass-administered, outbreaks will be as common as foul balls. . The U.S. posted its highest single-day total of new cases Wednesday. Eight states are routinely logging record numbers of new cases and hospitalizations, and four of them -- Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Missouri -- are home to seven of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams, who will start preparing for their season next week. A few weeks later, football training camps begin at team sites, and those four states are home to eight of the 32 franchises.
The behaviors of Americans, particularly American athletes, simply cannot be trusted.
That’s why all four major sports must expand rosters far past their current plans, or risk shutting down their seasons. What’s more, unless a vaccine is developed very soon, these major roster expansions will need to roll over into the 2020-21 winter seasons and likely through the beginning of baseball in 2021. Coronavirus victims can take up to six weeks to recover. The leagues are going to need lots of players in reserve.
NBA rosters, which usually sit at 15 on game days, should be 25 deep, not 17, as they’re discussing. Basketball is the sport likeliest to foster transmission. You might need two full teams.
NHL rosters need at least 35 players, given the degree of contact in the game. The league plans to expand from 23 to 28, plus unlimited goalies.
NFL teams should carry 90 players. Usually, they carry 53 players on the roster plus 10 practice-squad players. For now, they’re talking about expanding practice squads to 16 players, which would give them 69. Nice, but, practically speaking, that’s about 30 players too few when you’re trying to navigate a disease that spreads like dandelion seeds.
Major League Baseball teams should have 40 players ready at the drop of a hat, or the spike of a temperature. Shockingly, baseball is getting it right. Big-league active rosters, which were expanded from 25 to 26 last winter, will stand at 30 for the first two weeks of the short season, 28 for the third and fourth weeks, and 26 after that. Also, teams reportedly will have a total player pool of 60, including the ones on the active roster and the three-man traveling taxi squad. The other leagues should follow suit.
Even if the leagues refuse to keep enough players in reserve, they should at least keep a collection of specialists behind glass, including baseball. At least two starters, one long reliever, and one catcher should be quarantined.
NHL teams will carry at least three goalies. They should quarantine a fourth, and maybe a fifth. For the Flyers, Alex Lyon would make the most sense.
Basketball teams should keep at least one point guard on ice. In the Sixers’ case, that would give them ... one point guard.
Football teams should keep a quarterback quarantined. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, who is the smartest man in any coaches’ room, suggested that strategy two weeks ago on the “Green Light” podcast, the media endeavor of former Eagles pass rusher Chris Long, who was the smartest man in any locker room.
That’s a smart start; the Eagles probably have that sort arrangement already with Josh McCown, who will be 41 this season. The NFL should go further. Teams should quarantine a punter, a kicker, and a long snapper, too.
The players are only part of the issue. The largest and the most at-risk segment of the sports industry doesn’t throw, catch, or shoot.
That’s why any coach, scout, executive, or member of the support staff (trainers, secretaries, massage therapists, janitors) who doesn’t believe returning to work is safe would either have their contract automatically extended by one year or be granted a year’s salary. There should be no penalty for being old, or overweight, or for immuno-compromised, or living with someone who is. Certainly, there should be no penalty when working in an entertainment industry that generates billions of more dollars every year for multibillionaires who aren’t likely to leave their mansions until the virus is long gone.
This projection of mass sickness might sound insensitive, or dismissive. It is not. We completely understand the dangers associated with COVID-19. We sounded alarms before sports and society shut down. We have supplied guidelines and projections as we’ve learned more.
Most people who contract the virus exhibit mild to severe symptoms, but many get very sick, some emerge scarred for life, and a very small percentage die. It is the worst experience of most of our lifetimes. It has been abhorrently mismanaged by most government entities, particularly the federal government and the current presidential administration, and has left America a ghastly, international laughingstock.
We take the coronavirus very, very seriously. But, for better or worse, this is who we are. We are restarting sports in many states where we shouldn’t be restarting lawnmowers. The price we pay for our impatience will be massive, but we seem indifferent to the horror just over the horizon.
As expensive as the human toll of restarting sports might be, the economic cost of doing so properly, with vastly expanded rosters, would be hefty, too. It would cause all sorts of salary-cap headaches, but those are just numbers; we’re in the midst of a pandemic. This is no time to pinch pennies.
The only means of prevention is to call off all of the games, but that ship has sailed. There’s too much television money at stake for the owners and players. Many experts don’t foresee a COVID-19 vaccine until early next summer, which sounds slow but actually would be a miraculous timeline. Again, this would mean that these rosters would need to remain expanded through early next summer, at least.
There’s no reason to believe athletes like Goedert will protect themselves or others by following guidelines. The absence of active cases can erode vigilance. Goedert was at The Zoo Bar in Aberdeen, S.D., which is in Brown County, where only about 330 cases of the coronavirus have been discovered. Goedert’s hometown, Britton, in Marshall County, has seen five cases. Still, the state’s department of health recommends wearing a mask. Nobody was.
These giant rosters might seem impractical, but they are the only feasible price of doing business.