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Volume 26 No. 141

Coronavirus and Sports

Silver wants to make sure players and fans are guaranteed safety before resuming play
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Silver wants to make sure players and fans are guaranteed safety before resuming play
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Silver wants to make sure players and fans are guaranteed safety before resuming play
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league is "looking at three different" scenarios to possibly restart the season once the coronavirus spread dissipates. Appearing on "SportsCenter" yesterday, Silver said the first option would be to "restart and operate as we've known it," with 19,000 fans "in buildings." The second would be that the league could "consider restarting without fans and what that would mean." Silver said of the third option, "One of the things we've been talking about -- are there conditions in which a group of players could compete, maybe for a giant fundraiser or just for the collective good of the people." The league could take a "subset of players, and is there a protocol in which they can be tested and quarantined or isolated in some way, and then they can compete against each other." Silver: "Just because again, people are stuck at home and I think they need a diversion, they need to be entertained." Silver added he does not know what a resumed NBA season would look like, "just because I don't have a good enough sense of how long a period this is going to be." He said, "I want to believe that we're going to be able to salvage at least some portion of this season." Silver: "We're going to try every means we can to play basketball again, but I'd say the safety and the health of our players is first and our fans, which is why (I) don't want to speculate more than that" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/18). In Philadelphia, Keith Pompey notes Silver was "candid while being unsure yet optimistic" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/19).

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX: ESPN's Rachel Nichols, who conducted the interview with Silver, noted the charity game possibility is “not something that we had heard before, but the fact that they’re considering that is interesting” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/19). NBC SPORTS BAY AREA's Ali Thanawalla wrote Silver's idea for a charity game "might be difficult to put on, but he's thinking outside the box and at this point, it's not a terrible idea" (NBCSPORTSBAYAREA.com, 3/18). Meanwhile, in Houston, Jonathan Feigen notes "no option seems close to becoming a goal, much less a plan" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/19).

The NBA's move to suspend its season "may end up playing an important part in flattening the curve” of the coronavirus outbreak, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a decision that “may turn out to be a great public health decision," as he "helped prevent millions of people from gathering at sporting events before the government ordered it." Warriors coach Steve Kerr: "The NBA coming to a halt helped a lot of people come to grips. It was one of the tipping points where society at large knew how serious this was." Zillgitt notes Silver "relied on relationships he had formed to help him understand coronavirus and its potential impact," staying in contact with several top doctors and medical officials. Silver indicated that a conversation he had with NBPA Exec Dir Michele Roberts and NBPA staffers "centered on what makes sense for both sides 'without compromising anyone's safety.'" He then had a "lengthy BOG meeting where every owner or team representative had a chance to speak." A "significant part" of that conversation "focused on playing games without fans vs. taking a hiatus." The topic of a player testing positive also "came up in the BOG meeting, and while there was no definitive answer, the consensus favored a hiatus" (USA TODAY, 3/19).

EMBRACING ITS SOCIETAL ROLE: Silver appeared on ESPN last night and said there is a "unique role" the NBA can play in society, especially with regards to the coronavirus pandemic. He said, "We're part of the psyche of our country -- of the world, for that matter -- and I recognize that when we went off the air last Wednesday night, it was a larger decision than just the NBA. It got a lot of people's attention" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/18). In S.F., Ann Killion writes under the header, "How NBA, Kevin Durant Have Shown Sports' Power During Coronavirus Crisis." When a multi-billion dollar business like the NBA "shutters its doors for the foreseeable future, the message is immediate: This is as serious as anything can be." Additionally, by going public with positive diagnosis, Durant "might have sent an important message to a key demographic: young people who feel they're immune to this outbreak" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/19). Meanwhile, Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said the NBA, and all sports, "will be a vital mechanism for bringing people back together." However, he admits basketball is the "last thing on my mind right now" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 3/18).

PRAISE FROM MEDICAL FIELD: Johns Hopkins Univ. assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery Geoffrey Dreher "praised the NBA's quick action last week." He said, "It was impressive. The quick decision-making they did after that first diagnosis, looking in hindsight I think it was the right decision and was a tipping point especially in the public eye to kind of pandemic that’s going on and the severity that athletes, the sports world, as well as the general population, should be more aware of this” (L.A. TIMES, 3/19). Digital learning platform Osmosis Chief Medical Officer & Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician Rishi Desai said of Silver, "His action was instrumental at getting the political will and the economic will across the country over the hump, to switch us from one mode of thinking to another and get us to realize this is no longer an inconvenience and it is a national emergency" (USA TODAY, 3/19).

TRUST IN THE NBA: In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel writes, "The NBA led us here, and it's a safe bet they'll lead us out of it. ... Just as the NBA was the leader in shutting it all down, The Association will be at the forefront of when we all return." Engel: "We will know whenever the NBA tips off, the hiatus will be over" (Ft. Worth STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/19).

THIS DOES RAISE ONE QUESTION: In N.Y., Kristian Winfield writes the positive tests in the sports world "signaled the alarm not just in the NBA but across the globe: If a multi-million-dollar professional athlete in tip-top shape can catch the coronavirus, so can anyone else." However, they also "spurred an important question: In a world where more people are suffering and dying from the coronavirus by the day, why are young, healthy athletes being tested without showing any symptoms?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/19).

Rudy Gobert's positive test led to other full NBA teams getting screened for the virus
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Rudy Gobert's positive test led to other full NBA teams getting screened for the virus
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Rudy Gobert's positive test led to other full NBA teams getting screened for the virus
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

NBPA Exec Dir Michele Roberts said she was "disappointed" in the criticism NBA teams and players have gotten for receiving access to coronavirus tests, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com. Roberts said, "There's nothing irresponsible -- if you've got that information (that you've been exposed) -- about trying to get the tests." NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last night noted eight teams had been tested since last Wednesday, when Jazz C Rudy Gobert tested positive. The Nets were among those tested, and N.Y. Mayor Bill de Blasio "blasted the team on Twitter and suggested NBA players were being given preferential treatment because they were rich and had access to better health care than the general population, where there has been frustration over testing protocols and availability." Roberts said that she "understood the criticism but reiterated her criticism of how the government has handled the crisis" (ESPN.com, 3/18). Silver last night said the NBA has been "following the recommendations of public health officials" regarding testing, though he admitted he understands "from a public health standpoint why some people have reacted the way they did." He said the "fundamental issue ... is there are insufficient tests" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/18).

CREATING A TESTING PROCESS: In L.A., Tania Ganguli reports the NBA "asked teams to create an arrangement with an infectious disease specialist with whom they could consult, and have a process in place for testing their players should the need arise." When it was "decided they needed to test their players, most teams paid for the tests to be administered and analyzed at private facilities" (L.A. TIMES, 3/19). USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt notes the Nets and Thunder "acknowledged they used private facilities to test players and staff for coronavirus and explained why they did" in statements released yesterday (USA TODAY, 3/19). In Detroit, Rod Beard cites a source as saying that the Pistons' tests were "done through a private lab and only for members of the traveling party who had direct contact with Gobert -- and also either presented with symptoms of the illness or had underlying respiratory issues or health conditions" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/19). In Philadelphia, Keith Pompey cites sources as saying that some 76ers players "were tested on Monday," while some staff members are "still waiting to be tested" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/19).

HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS? Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban appeared on CNN last night and was asked by host Chris Cuomo if there are "two tiers of medical justice" with so many NBA teams and players being tested. Cuban said, "We've just followed the protocols for our players. We're keeping them effectively under quarantine and talking to them everyday with medical professionals." He added, "It's not like something was offered to us that other people couldn't get. We face the dilemmas that every organization faces" ("Cuomo Prime Time," CNN, 3/18).

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote it is important to note that none of the teams to conduct testing are "trying to act improperly." The NBA and its teams have "been at the forefront of this fight," and it "isn’t the league’s fault there aren’t enough tests in this country." However, the NBA "might be better off using its resources to get tests for the people who need them most" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/18). THE ATHLETIC's Marcus Thompson II wrote even if there is an "explanation as to why the NBA players are getting access to the tests, it doesn’t change the public relations nightmare it might cause," and it "doesn’t fully excuse them getting the lion’s share of available tests" (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/18).

IOC officials on the call reportedly sidestepped or provided vague answers on pressing issues
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
IOC officials on the call reportedly sidestepped or provided vague answers on pressing issues
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
IOC officials on the call reportedly sidestepped or provided vague answers on pressing issues
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The IOC yesterday morning conducted a two-hour conference call with 200 athlete reps from around the world and half a dozen IOC officials, including President Thomas Bach, and rather than "reassuring the athletes, the call left a number of them flummoxed," according to Keh & Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. Participants on the call said that IOC officials "sidestepped many questions or provided vague answers on a number of pressing issues, including potential alternative plans" for the Tokyo Games. There was "widespread concern afterward that the organization seemed not to acknowledge the global health impact of its actions." Resistance to the IOC's "insistence on pushing forward with the Games is growing." For example, Spanish Olympic Committee President Alejandro Blanco said that holding the Games as scheduled "would be unfair to athletes from his country and from other places where gyms, pools and training centers have been shut down." Multiple people in the session asked the IOC officials about a "so-called no-go date," as well as about the "specific conditions that would have to be met for the event to go on as planned." But they were told that there was "no such date, and no details on decision-making were offered" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/19). USATF Athletes Advisory Committee Chair Jeff Porter said, "When folks had asked if they had any backup plans or contingencies, the only thing they did mention is that there is a plan,” but he added that IOC officials declined to provide details (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/19).

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: In DC, Barry Svrluga notes now athletes are "caught in the middle and have no clear idea how to proceed." USOC Athletes' Advisory Council Chair Han Xiao said that his council "does not have an official position on whether the Olympics should be postponed or canceled." He added that currently, athletes are "against cancellation," but also said that "more athletes are open to the idea of postponement" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/19). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes, "No one wants to see the Olympics and Paralympics postponed. But it’s the right thing to do, the responsible thing to do." The IOC is "hyper-sensitive to the fact athletes have sweated and sacrificed for most of their lives for an event that only comes around every four years." But this is "new territory," a situation which "presents a variety of challenges that make it impossible to go forward with the Games as scheduled" (USA TODAY, 3/19). In N.Y., Dennis Young notes, "At a bare minimum, it does not seem like the Olympics will start in July" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/19).

ViacomCBS could see a $350M "hit this quarter on the cancellation" of the NCAA Tournament, according to Jill Goldsmith of DEADLINE.com. Imperial Capital analyst David Miller has "cut earnings forecasts for the company and his price target for the stock," which is down 16% as of yesterday. ViacomCBS will "probably not have to pay rights fees back to the NCAA," which Miller thinks were "set to total" $240M in Q2. He added that rights fees for ViacomCBS this year -- versus last year or next year -- were "set to be softer" because all the Final Four games and NCAA Championship game "go to Turner in all even years." Miller said that as a sign of how quickly things devolved, NCAA Tournament advertising was "selling briskly" up until last Wednesday, with CPMs (cost per impression) "up an average of 9.2% year-on-year, depending on the round and game" (DEADLINE.com, 3/18).

Penguins Exec VP & GM Jim Rutherford and President & CEO David Morehouse will be taking "voluntary pay cuts so that other members of the Penguins staff will not be as impacted financially" from the coronavirus pandemic, according to Mike DeFabo of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. By sacrificing some of their salaries, Rutherford and Morehouse have "ensured that members of the hockey staff, office employees or other individuals within the organization won't feel the financial burden of the crisis as much." Previously, the Penguins announced a plan to "make sure that full- and part-time arena and service employees at PPG Paints Arena would not lose income during the work stoppage." Funding for that initiative "will come from players," led by C Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/19).

Jazz C Rudy Gobert pledged to donate $200,000 to part-time employees at Vivint Smart Home Arena following his positive coronavirus diagnosis, but some of those employees this week "received an email that their upcoming paychecks would include their hourly wages for only 'actual hours worked' during the March period," according to Andy Larsen of the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE. There are over 800 part-timers who work at the arena, though Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment "has not released plans to pay employees or support them" for events not taking place. LHMSE also has not "announced how they'll use Gobert's $200K donation." The company right now "remains in assessment mode, but appears to be focused on job placement for their part-time employees, rather than subsides" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 3/19).

SILENCE IN BOSTON: In Boston, Marisa Ingemi reports the Bruins are the only NHL organization that has yet to announce financial support plans for their game-day staff, and the team's "silence on the matter has been deafening for many who work at TD Garden." Neither the Bruins organization nor TD Garden owners Delaware North "returned messages seeking comment" yesterday, five days after an original statement released last Friday and "more than a week after many employees worked their final shifts of the season at the Garden." Garden workers said that they had been "advised to seek unemployment benefits, and they are looking for some kind of update from Delaware North so they can plan ahead" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/19). 

COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE: In Miami, Anthony Chiang notes the Heat and AmericanAirlines Arena announced they will be "providing disaster relief assistance to team and arena part-time employees." They also will "provide funds to their partners, including food and beverage concessionaire (Levy Restaurants), security (Contemporary Services Corporation), and housekeeping (Pritchard Sports and Entertainment) to assist workers during the coronavirus shutdown." The Micky & Madeleine Arison Family Foundation will "donate an additional" $1M to the Miami Heat Charitable Fund at the Miami Foundation (MIAMI HERALD, 3/19). 

ONE STEP AT A TIME: MSG has sent a memo to event employees, including those who work home games for the Rangers and Knicks, informing them that they "would be paid through March 22." Beyond that, MSG event employees "remain unsure of how or if they will get paid." The workers are "essentially being paid for an additional week and a half" (Westchester JOURNAL NEWS, 3/19). 

Jason Heyward is donating $100,000 each to MASK Chicago and the Greater Chicago Food Depository
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Jason Heyward is donating $100,000 each to MASK Chicago and the Greater Chicago Food Depository
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Jason Heyward is donating $100,000 each to MASK Chicago and the Greater Chicago Food Depository
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Cubs RF Jason Heyward will "donate $200,000 to be split between two companies, with $100,000 going to MASK Chicago -- which is collecting supplies and meals for families affected by the virus -- and the other $100,000 helping out the Greater Chicago Food Depository" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/19)....Braves 1B Freddie Freeman will "donate $50,000 to the Atlanta Food Bank, $50,000 to Giving Kitchen and $25,000 to the Salvation Army in an effort to help those affected by the coronavirus outbreak" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 3/19).

COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP: The Broncos are donating $500,000 to the Colorado Covid Relief Fund (Broncos)....The Mavs Foundation announced that it is "contributing $100,000 to nonprofits across North Texas." Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said that the donations will be "done on a monthly basis until the NBA season resumes" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/19)....Minnesota United "donated 2,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as dairy and dry goods ordered for Sunday’s home opener to two local organizations, the Aliveness Project and Second Harvest of Heartland of Minnesota" (Minneapolis STAR-TRIBUNE, 3/19)....The Real Salt Lake Foundation today is donating "perishable food that is normally used ... for game days at Rio Tinto Stadium" to the Utah Food Bank. The food is being provided by Levy Restaurants. The foundation also is donating $5,000 to the food bank (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 3/19)....The WNBA L.A. Sparks said they "plan to assist the Los Angeles Unified School District with its new Grab & Go Food Centers." The team also will "deliver groceries to the East L.A. Women’s Shelter and the Watts Labor Community Action Center, as well as other community members in need" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 3/19).