Major League Baseball is getting serious about its COVID-19 restrictions in an effort to prevent outbreaks like the ones that have caused frequent cancellations and postponements early in the shortened season.
USA TODAY’S Bob Nightengale reported Wednesday that MLB sent all 30 teams a memo detailing severe protocol measures, including hiring compliance officials to monitor teams and “threatening to suspend a player or staff member for the remainder of the season for repeated or flagrant violations.” The heightened measures come two weeks after the start of the 60-game season that is being played with travel to and from MLB stadiums, unlike the bubble concept the NBA, NHL and MLS have been using.
“We recognize that these changes place additional burdens and restrictions on players and staff,’’ the six-page memo said, according to USA TODAY. “But if we desire to play, they are necessary to limit infections and, if someone does test positive, to keep the virus from spreading. The behavior of every covered individual affects the players and staff on his or her team, and on other clubs as well.
“Everyone must be accountable for their own conduct because the careless or reckless actions of a few can impact the health and well-being of everyone.’’
Since the season started July 23, 33 players and staff members on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals have tested positive for COVID-19. The positive tests have caused the cancellation of several series, while there have been days in which 20 percent of the league’s teams had their games canceled. The league is trying to keep that to a minimum going forward.
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“Any covered individuals — whether players or club staff — who are found to have repeatedly or flagrantly violated the protocols, including refusing to wear a face covering when required and reminded to do so,’’ the memo reads, according to Nightengale “risks being prohibited from further participation in the 2020 season and postseason (in the case of players, subject to the just cause provisions in the Basic Agreement). The Commissioner’s Office will send written warnings prior to any such action being taken.’’
USA TODAY reported that the revised protocols include:
- Players and staff wear face coverings at all times, including the dugout and clubhouse, with the exception of players on the field. This includes all coaches on the field, and every member of the umpiring crew. They must also wear face coverings at all times in the hotel and at public places on the road.
- Clubs must reduce the size of their traveling parties to only personnel who are absolutely essential to playing games. The compliance officers must certify that every member of the traveling party served an essential function.
- Staff and players are strictly prohibited from meeting in hotel rooms while on the road, and may not gather in any public areas of the hotel without permission from the team’s compliance officer. Each team will make at least one private large room at the hotel with food and other amenities that is configured to allow for social distancing.
- On road trips, clubs must provide a minimum of four buses, with a fully unoccupied row between players and staff members, while prohibiting side-by-side seating. On planes, players and staff members are prohibited from having more than two individuals in a row, and they can’t sit across from one another. They also are prohibiting anyone from leaving their seats except to use the lavatory. Players and staff members also must wear surgical masks or N95/KN95 respirators on the plane.
- Any player or staff member must notify their compliance officer if they intend to leave the hotel on the road.
- All clubs are required to provide outdoor, covered spaces for all visiting players and staff members to sit.
- Players and staff members are prohibited from visiting bars, lounges, malls or places in which large groups gather.
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The NFL has been watching the difficulties baseball has faced. Sports Illustrated reported that the NFL Players Association has set up a whistleblower hotline — similar to what the NBA has been using in its Disney bubble — for players to confidentially report potential violations of the league’s health and safety protocol. The hotline allows the union to dispatch investigators after receiving a tip.
“Our player affairs staff is taking the health and safety of players seriously,” George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, said, according to SI. “We set this up to ensure players felt comfortable at their workplace, but also to ensure they know we would act if they didn’t feel safe.”