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🏆 Count 'em up

June 22, 2020
MARK THOR/ORLANDO PRIDE
MARK THOR/ORLANDO PRIDE

The GIST: The rate of new COVID-19 cases hit a high in the US this weekend, with over 30,000 new cases reported yesterday alone. Turns out, it’s not just Donald Trump’s campaign staffers who are testing positive: quite a few athletes are among the count, too.

Oh no. Who?: Because leagues are bound to respect player/patient confidentiality, we’re not totally sure. That said, leagues are releasing numbers. Since June 8th, 11 NHL players have tested positive, and within the last week, 40 cases in the MLB were confirmed.

  • Last week, ahead of this Saturday’s return-to-play Challenge Cup tournament, an NWSL player tested positive, and more MLS and NFL players were confirmed positive over the weekend, too.
  • In NCAA football, there’s been a ridiculous number of confirmed cases over the past few weeks. At least 30 players at Louisiana State University (LSU) are currently in quarantine (only some have tested positive, while the rest are awaiting test results) and 23 players at Clemson University have been confirmed positive.

Why are so many players suddenly testing positive?: A few reasons, including increased testing, lax rules and a surge in travel as players make their way back to their team’s city. And this increase is going to pose another big problem: as play resumes, it will become increasingly difficult for leagues to maintain their players’ medical confidentiality.

What do you mean?: Well, if someone like LeBron James, for example, tests positive in the middle of the NBA Playoffs and suddenly disappears, people are going to ask questions. We’re already seeing it in action.

  • Take Nick Watney. The PGA golfer tested negative on Tuesday, played the first round of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage, and then tested positive on Friday, causing him to withdraw from the tournament already in progress. He had no choice but to confirm his diagnosis publicly.
  • And tennis player Grigor Dimitrov pulled out of his match in an exhibition tournament in Croatia yesterday after testing positive just hours earlier. Seems like a slippery slope, no?

🏆 Rose colored glasses

June 22, 2020
PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP
PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP

The GIST: Let’s quickly flash back to March 11th: one athlete, Rudy Gobert (pronounced GOH-BEAR) of the Utah Jazz, tested positive for coronavirus, and the entire sports world shut down. Today, dozens of players have tested positive, and the leagues are somehow going full steam ahead with their return-to-play scenarios, even in COVID-19 hotspots.

Seriously?: The NBA, WNBA and MLS are all sticking to their “bubble city” plans in Florida, where more than 20,000 new cases (!!!) were confirmed in the past week. And get this: the NBA is even increasing the number of players and coaches allowed inside practice facilities this week, despite reports of “concern” from Commissioner Adam Silver. Don’t love it.

  • Nevada, which has one of the fastest rates of new COVID-19 cases in the country, could host half of the NHL’s postseason, and cases also continue to climb in Utah, home to the upcoming NWSL tournament. All of these return-to-play plans — head-scratchingly — are still a go.

Are there any leagues that are not okay with this?: The gongshow that is the MLB still hasn’t decided on a plan to start their season, and with the new revelation that 40 players and staff have COVID-19, the players have decided to delay voting on any plans until the outlook is a little clearer.

  • The MLB has also ordered all spring training facilities to close, while the NFL Players Association is advising their players to not participate in private group workouts.
  • While the NCAA is still figuring out a plan too, they’ve left most schools to figure things out on their own. Thirty UCLA football players are calling on their school to allow an independent third-party health and safety team to oversee the wellbeing of the team, saying they don’t trust the team’s coaching and administrative staff to take proper care of them — another issue for another newsletter.

What are the medical professionals saying?: When it comes to the NFL, Dr. Anthony Fauci (aka everyone’s favorite member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force) suggests that the only way he sees the season happening is if the league is able to maintain the strictest of “bubble” environments.

  • Similar to the NBA, the environment in which players live, practice and play would have to remain completely closed off from the outside world. That means all essential staff, including cooks, housekeepers and officials would have to live in the bubble, too.

So what do the leagues do now?: There’s a lot to consider here — sports are a business, after all. People need to make money and the industry needs to get back on its feet. We also need to learn to adapt to this new normal. Sports are an important part of the global economy, our culture and our lives.

  • But it begs the ongoing, obvious questions: Is it too soon? And is it worth it? If restarting now means putting the players’ and staff’s health (and lives!) at risk, we can’t see how it is.

🏀 They woke up like this

June 22, 2020
USA TODAY SPORTS
USA TODAY SPORTS

The GIST: For weeks, NBA players have been debating whether returning to play will take momentum away from the protests surrounding George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of simply talking about it, some WNBA players are getting sh!t done.

How so?: Last week, the Atlanta Dream’s Renee Montgomery tweeted that when the WNBA returns next month, she won’t be there. Why? The two-time WNBA champ is skipping the 2020 season to focus on fighting for social justice instead.

  • Montgomery will use her foundation, the Renee Montgomery Foundation, to help facilitate change for young Black people through sport and will host speaking engagements and events around Atlanta, her adopted hometown.

She’s an inspiration: And she’s not alone. Montgomery is following in the footsteps of her former teammate Maya Moore, a four-time WNBA champion (yes, she’s a BFD) who took an indefinite sabbatical ahead of the 2019 season to focus on criminal justice reform.

  • In January, Moore informed her team (the Minnesota Lynx) that she would sit out for a second straight season, after spending 2019 advocating for the release of Jonathan Irons, a man wrongly convicted 23 years ago for burglary when he was just 16. Irons’ conviction was overturned earlier this year, largely thanks to the work put in by Moore.

These women are incredible — will they still get paid?: Nope. Montgomery and Moore are not only giving up playing the game they love while in the prime of their careers, they’re also giving up the paycheck that comes along with it.

  • So yes, they’re literally giving up everything to fight for social justice and reform. Feel free to give them a round of applause — we sure are.

🏈🎾🏀 Around and around and around we go

June 18, 2020
 TOM PENNINGTON/GETTY IMAGES
TOM PENNINGTON/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Sports are coming back. But, unfortunately, so are some athletes’ positive COVID-19 test results.

Oh no. Who?: Most recently, several players from the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys have tested positive, including Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is the third NFL player, and arguably one of the biggest stars in sports, to be publicly named.

  • Despite this, the NFL still seems to be planning for a normal regular season with fans (!!!) and for training camps to start in late July. Does this seem dangerously (in a literal sense) optimistic to you or is it just us?

Yikes. What about college football?: Many of the most prolific NCAA football teams — including Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Alabama — have reported coronavirus cases among their players recently as well. Not good. Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga said he tested positive after attending a protest in Tulsa.

  • The NCAA is continuing to monitor the situation before making any drastic decisions, but yesterday, the Southern Heritage Classic — an annual matchup between Tennessee State and Jackson State played in Memphis in September — became the first NCAA football event to be canceled because of coronavirus. And we’re thinking it won’t be the last.

Wow. Can you give me some good news?: For sure! The PGA Tour tested all players, caddies and staff ahead of today’s RBC Heritage tournament (the second event since the season restart), and for the second week in a row, there wasn’t a single positive test. Let’s polite golf clap to that.

  • Speaking of golf, the LPGA is returning on July 31st. The women’s tour has added a new tournament called the LPGA Drive On Championship, which will kick off the season with back-to-back events in Ohio. Mark your calendars.

Amazing! Keep it rolling: Despite rumors that the WTA and ATP’s US Open would be canceled, it’s now officially scheduled to start on August 31st, thanks to New York governor Andrew Cuomo giving it the go ahead. Thanks, man! While not everyone is happy about the announcement, Serena Williams is stoked so we’re stoked too.

  • And on Monday, the WNBA officially confirmed that the regular season will start in late July and will feature 22 games followed by a traditional postseason. Untraditionally, there won’t be any fans, and all teams will play, practice and live at the IMG Academy in Florida. Quite the destination these days.

And...I’m afraid to ask...what’s up with the MLB?: Don’t be afraid — we have progress! The MLB and the players union are talking again, and they seem to have come to an agreement on a “jointly developed framework.” The new plan would have the season start on July 19th with players receiving their full salaries for the amount of games played (as they wished).

  • The number of games is a sticking point, though. The suggested number was 60, but there seems to be some flip flopping on that. The league and union still have work to do (someone call these guys a couples’ counselor), but one thing’s for sure: the players are ready.

🏆🏈 Keep the conversation going

June 18, 2020
JARED C. TILTON/GETTY IMAGES
JARED C. TILTON/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: The Black Lives Matter movement has found an unlikely but long-overdue ally in the sports world: NASCAR.

Really?: Really! NASCAR has a long history of racism, an overwhelmingly white fanbase and up until last week, a sea of Confederate flags at most races. But the stock car racing series is working to change: this week, NASCAR hired Brandon Thompson as their vice president of diversity and inclusion, a new role within the organization.

  • Thompson’s promotion comes at a time when NASCAR is looking to expand its fanbase and attract new and diverse talent to the sport. Moves like this prove the value and the power of the Black Lives Matter movement — let’s keep it going.

Awesome. Any other news?: It looks like Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback (QB) who began the #TakeAKnee national anthem protests and was subsequently banished from the NFL in 2016, has a great chance to return to the league in 2020.

  • The Los Angeles Chargers might be adding Kaepernick to their workout list, and the Philadelphia Eagles are showing interest in bringing him on as a backup QB. And apparently the Las Vegas Raiders (who recently moved from Oakland) are trying to do the same. Yes, please!
  • Kaepernick even has the backing of two unlikely sources: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and president Donald Trump. Well, well, well how the turn tables.