Shut down sports during COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is exposing the lie that professional sports leagues put the health and safety of their players before the teams’ bottom line.

It’s the height of irresponsibility for MLB, NBA, WNBA, NHL, NFL, MLS and NWSL teams to resume play while COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. And that goes double for California colleges and high school programs that are moving forward with plans to play games this fall.

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The competition endangers the players; accelerates the general spread of the virus; risks the players’ exposing their parents, grandparents and other highly vulnerable friends and family members to the deadly virus; and sends the entirely wrong message to fans around the world that sports competition can be safely resumed. It can’t. Not yet.

Yet Major League Baseball officials announced this past week that teams will start play July 23 or 24. National Basketball Association teams have approved a plan to restart the season at Disney World with 22 teams on July 31. The National Women’s Basketball Association has said it will launch the 2020 season in July in Bradenton, Fla. The National Hockey League will begin the Stanley Cup playoffs on July 30 in two hub cities, one of which will be Las Vegas.

The National Football League is planning to kick off its season Sept. 10, presumably with a full slate of games to follow. Major League Soccer plans to resume with a tournament in Orlando, Fla., on July 8. And the National Women’s Soccer League opens its Challenge Cup tournament in Utah this weekend.

The highest risk of being infected is by close contact. Officials of those leagues are kidding themselves if they believe they can create a safe environment for players, coaches, referees, umpires and their families. Not unless they come up with a set of new rules ensuring social distancing while the ball or puck is in play. Stephen Curry and Jimmy Garoppolo may like the idea, but their opponents? Not so much.

The health issues are especially worrisome in Florida, where NBA, WNBA and MLS teams plan to play their games. Perhaps they should first look at the COVID-19 box score for the state: The seven-day average for deaths, which never got below about 30, is once again rising. New cases there have spiked in June to triple the number at the peak in April and five times the number at the start of June.

Even tennis players are vulnerable to infection during matches. The world’s No. 1 player, Novak Djokovic, who flouted the pandemic by organizing a series of exhibition matches in Croatia, announced this week that he, his wife and four players had tested positive for COVID-19 following their participation in the Adria Tour.

The NFL Network reported last week that a San Francisco 49ers player who was working out with teammates in Nashville tested positive for the coronavirus. Multiple players on the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys reportedly have also contracted the virus.

Some players, including women’s soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe and U.S. World Cup teammates Tobin Heath and Christen Press, have wisely opted out of playing games during this weekend’s tournament.

The responsible course of action is to shut down all games until scientists have developed a vaccine or the threat of infection is greatly reduced.

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We’re not there yet in the United States. We’re not even close.

— The Mercury News

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