The Current

NBA's plan to resume season is too soon amid pandemic, says sports columnist

In March, major sports leagues, including the NBA, NHL and MLB, halted their seasons because of the coronavirus outbreak. Now, as efforts to restart economies and life as we know it occur around the world, some of those leagues are looking to get back to playing.

Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur says COVID-19 has changed sports as we know it

With the NBA planning to resume the basketball season next month, commissioner Adam Silver recently held a conference call with team executives and addressed the Florida outbreak, according to ESPN. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Read story transcript

When the pandemic began, Toronto Star sports columnist Bruce Arthur shifted his attention to reporting on the novel coronavirus — and he says he's not in a hurry to go back to sports coverage.

"The form that sports is going to attempt to come back under this summer is not sports, right? It's not sports as we know it," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"I look forward to sports coming back if it is part of a triumph of public health."

The state of professional sports amid a global pandemic is the main reason he's in no rush to return to his beat.

In March, major sports leagues, including the NBA, NHL and MLB, put a hold on their seasons because of the outbreak of COVID-19 caused by the virus. Now, as efforts to restart economies and life as we know it occur around the world, some of those leagues are looking to get back to playing.

The NBA has announced plans to resume the basketball season next month at its Disney World campus in Florida. Players will be required to wear masks, follow physical distancing guidelines and be tested daily. Family members will be prohibited.

Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery announced earlier this month that she would opt out of the remainder of the WNBA's season and instead, focus on social justice work with her foundation. (John Amis/The Associated Press)

But with confirmed COVID-19 cases soaring in that state, some worry that relaunching the basketball season could cause trouble.

"There's a lot of questions about how social distancing will be properly enforced and how these players can cope with the added stressors on their bodies and their mental health — of being even further quarantined than the rest of us have been in the last few months," said Kavitha Davidson, host and editorial director of The Athletic podcast The Lead.

While Davidson welcomes the return of pro sports, she said she has concerns given "many of us still don't feel safe walking to the grocery store."

For its part, the NBA said it recognizes the plan isn't perfect but that no effort will offer 100 per cent protection for players.

"These protocols are designed to promote prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce exposure to, and transmission of, the coronavirus," the league said.

"However, it is possible that staff, players or other participants in the resumption of the 2019-20 season nonetheless may test positive or contract the coronavirus."

WATCH | NBA looks to resume season at Disney World in Florida: 

The NBA is in talks with The Walt Disney Company on a single-site scenario for a resumption of play in Central Florida in late July. 1:56

The Star's Arthur said that the idea to resume the NBA season at Disney World was "bad" when it was first floated and "worse" now that Florida is facing a severe outbreak of COVID-19.

"In theory, the last days of the NBA playoffs would be October 13th. It has to last that long. How bad does Florida get between now and then?" he said.

Backdrop of social unrest

Amid the backdrop of COVID-19 are ongoing protests over anti-Black racism and police brutality, and that has some players questioning whether to play during an unconventional season.

"There have been a number of NBA players, for example, who have seriously been considering opting out of playing the rest of the season," said Davidson. Los Angeles Lakers point guard Avery Bradley will not return for this season, citing family concerns, according to a report from ESPN.

"Both out of safety concerns, but also out of concern for the distraction that playing in whatever a muted postseason is going to look like for their overall message about social justice."

Davidson said a number of WNBA players have publicly opted out of that league's shortened season in favour of supporting social justice causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement.

"There's work to be done off the court in so many areas in our community," said Renee Montgomery, a point guard for the Atlanta Dream, in a tweet earlier this month. "Social justice reform isn't going to happen overnight, but I do feel that now is the time and Moments equal Momentum."

She runs a foundation that aims to support women in sport.

Meanwhile, Arthur said that he's been told the NBA is looking at ways to put money toward social justice causes.

WATCH | The return of sports during the pandemic:

How the sports world is planning its return during the COVID-19 pandemic — and the risks in doing so. 2:09

Whether or not the NFL, where quarterback Colin Kaepernick's career ended after he took a knee during the national anthem, will take a stand is up in the air, however, Arthur said. Recent reports suggest that multiple teams have expressed interest in signing Kaepernick for the upcoming season.

"I don't know that giving Colin Kaepernick a job back fixes it, but to me, it's more there's going to be one-time gestures, and there's going to be stuff that lasts," he told Galloway. 

"Right now, a lot of people are saying and doing stuff because it is a moment. How long does it last or how long does the status quo take before it comes rushing back?"

Arthur added that the NFL can be a "weather vane" for support of a cause given its appeal among people on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum. If it takes a stand on an issue, he said, it can push the envelope on what is considered acceptable.

"Sports can touch so many people and when it comes to race, I think you are going to see real change in how people act, and you'll see superficial change — and all of it will serve to push what is expected of people in the right direction."

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Peter Mitton.

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