CORONAVIRUS

Multiple Governors Announce Openness To Live Sports Without Fans

Governors from New York, California and Texas all said their states will be open for live sports with no spectators in the coming weeks.

As states around the country continue to relax social distancing guidelines involving in-person meetings, a chorus of governors have announced their openness to live sports events in the immediate future, with some offering their states as test sites for teams and leagues looking to restart competition during the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he has pitched sports teams on broadcasting games without spectators from facilities in his state. 

“New York State will help those major sports franchises do just that,” Cuomo said during a press conference. “Hockey, basketball, baseball, football ― whoever can reopen. We’re a ready, willing, and able partner.”

Also on Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced professional sports in the state will be allowed to resume without spectators starting May 31. In a press release, Abbott said leagues looking to restart competition in Texas must submit a plan that “incorporates applicable minimum standard health protocols” and meet guidelines imposed by the state’s health department. 

An overall view of a near-empty Madison Square Garden during a quarterfinal game between the St. John's Red Storm and the Cre
An overall view of a near-empty Madison Square Garden during a quarterfinal game between the St. John's Red Storm and the Creighton Bluejays in the Big East Tournament on March 12 in New York City. Each team was allowed about 200 tickets under a reduced attendance policy.

And California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced Monday his state may be prepared to restart live sports without spectators in June.

The governors that expressed openness to restarting live sports Monday are enduring different stages of the coronavirus crisis, highlighting the absence of a clear directive from federal health officials about when it is safe for athletic competition to restart.

New York, for example, has seen a downward trend in new coronavirus cases, while Texas is seeing an upward trend in new cases. California, which had previously reported a downward trend in new cases, is also seeing those numbers rise.

On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released guidelines advising that all in-person events involving 50 or more people be postponed for eight weeks to curb the spread of the virus. At the time, several leagues, including the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the NCAA tournament suspended or canceled their seasons due to the virus. In the months since, however, President Donald Trump and his conservative allies have sought to undermine the CDC, encouraging states to hastily defy the agency’s social distancing recommendations and “reopen” businesses. Multiple outlets have reported Trump sees the faltering economy as a greater threat to his reelection than the health crisis caused by the pandemic. 

The empty streets outside the Staples Center and Microsoft Theater at LA Live on April 21 in Los Angeles, California.
The empty streets outside the Staples Center and Microsoft Theater at LA Live on April 21 in Los Angeles, California.

Trump himself has angrily tweeted at governors to suspend social distancing measures and signaled an eagerness to see large crowds again as he approaches campaign season.

“We want to get it back to where it was, we want big, big stadiums loaded with people,” Trump said Sunday. “We don’t want to have 15,000 people watching Alabama-LSU, as an example.” The president received an ovation when he visited Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last November for a football game between the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University. 

The ultimate decision regarding when sports can resume, however, is an entirely different question than when they will resume. Even as state officials plan to welcome athletics back, major American sports leagues themselves ― that is, players, team executives and staff ― are all in deliberation among themselves about how or if it may be possible to return safely, and the perspectives are varied. 

In the NBA, for example, a number of star players, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, recently joined a conference call to express their desire to resume the 2019-2020 season when states permit live sports again. The NBA currently doesn’t have an official timetable for the return but some reports say the league could be ready to resume play as early as July. 

In contrast, a number of athletes have expressed wariness about returning to sports during the pandemic, and their grievances suggest leagues may face ongoing labor disputes with their athletes as they seek to bring sports back amid the pandemic. In the MLB, where league officials have floated some extreme social distancing ideas designed to resume league play in isolated locations, some players have questioned whether playing is worth the health risk. 

Last week, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell scoffed at MLB team owners’ proposal that players take reduced pay due to lost revenue in the upcoming season, saying that playing puts players at an increased risk for contracting the coronavirus.

“Y’all got to understand,” Snell said, “for me to take a pay cut, it’s not happening, because the risk is through the roof.”

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