Bubbling back to sports

Following recent sports procedure changes, TRL’s Katie Dolberry shares her opinion on league alterations amid the pandemic

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Hannah Gonzalez

“I wish the MLB had implemented some sort of bubble or at least spent more time enforcing protocol.”

I’m just as fed up with COVID-19 as everyone else, maybe more, considering it’s my senior year. It’s driving me absolutely crazy. Sitting down to watch sports after dinner has been my family’s routine for years. 

The Texas Rangers have always been important to my family. I remember being seven or eight and being able to tell anyone who asked the whole Ranger’s roster. That’s how religiously my family watched their games.

 It’s therefore safe to say I was thrilled when the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey League (NHL) came back last month. I spent my excess time watching all the local team games and, of course, like any avid sports viewer, critiquing everything that the leagues are doing wrong. Not being able to physically go to games doesn’t bother me. I’m just glad to have sports to watch. I will say though, it was very creative to pipe in the sound of fans and use virtual or cardboard fans to simulate a normal game for players. The NBA is in a bubble in Orlando, which means that only players, coaches, team personnel, referees and essential personnel are allowed within the parameters. Nobody is allowed to enter or exit the bubble unless they follow extensive protocols put in place. The NHL is divided into two bubbles, Edmonton and Toronto. I think that NBA and NHL commissioners Adam Silver and Gary Bettman, respectively, are genius for that. I wish I could say the same about the MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred. 

The NBA made all players quarantine in their room for 48 hours upon arrival to the bubble before they could leave their hotel room. Even now, they have frequent COVID-19 tests. They are allowed to hang out around the bubble with teammates and players from other teams as long as they are following protocol. I feel like all things considered, the players are being treated very humanely. Players are required to take their temperatures daily and log it into an app. The app is monitored by approved personnel and determines whether players are allowed to leave the hotel. Players also scan bracelets everywhere they go, so that if they were to test catch COVID-19, personnel could track where they might have picked it up and who they may have been with when they caught it. This plan was very innovative, and it has proven to work. Out of 322 people inside the bubble, only two players have tested positive. This occurred when teams were first arriving back in early July. The two players were sent away to isolate. The NBA really did think of everything. They even set up a barbershop in the bubble. I have been very impressed with how Silver and the rest of the NBA have handled the pandemic. From the immediate delay of the league after Rudy Gobert tested positive to transitioning into bubble basketball, the NBA has put safety first.  

 When I’m not watching basketball games, I find joy in watching Philadelphia 76er’s rookie Matisse Thybulle’s “Welcome to the Bubble” vlogs. Thybulle quickly made his way up my rookie favorite list when he started putting out videos of what life looks like as a player in the bubble. From what I can tell, it looks pretty good. The vlogs also do a good job of displaying some of the protocols that the NBA has put in place. However, once the second round of playoffs begins, players will be allowed to have family and long term significant others stay in a guest room. While the guests do have to self quarantine before entering the bubble, I don’t agree with this choice. I understand the need to see your family, but why put the entire season in jeopardy?

The MLB’s approach to handling the pandemic is a completely different story. In the beginning of the MLB’s delayed season, they had few precautions in place, which resulted in a large outbreak within the league. They had no bubble plan, and they continued to send teams in planes across the country without thinking of their health.The MLB even extended the roster at the beginning of the start, while other leagues that haven’t had a COVID-19 problem minimized rosters. At one point in the season, 20 percent of the league had to put their games on pause because of the levels of COVID-19 around the league. They did not do much as a league to prevent the current problem either. The St. Louis Cardinals have only played 17 games because of  the number of cases within their team. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have played all 30 games. What is the MLB going to feasibly do to level the playing field? I feel that if a team has players that test positive, they should not be allowed to play until everyone has properly quarantined and retests. The MLB allowed the Miami Marlins to play against the Philadelphia Phillies even though four positive tests and other results were pending for the Marlins. However, what made me the most upset was that commissioner Rob Manfred said “the players need to be better” as if he had put in protocols for them to follow in the first place. 

One thing that I believe the NBA and MLB did right was to allow their players to option out of the season. NBA and MLB players were allowed to option out of the season with no pay concerns if they were considered high risk. Others were allowed to option out but forfeit their salaries. I was happy to see that both leagues had their players’ best interests at heart. 

Overall, I would say that the NBA is handling the pandemic extremely well and using the bubble worked in their favor. However, I wish the MLB implemented some sort of bubble or at least spent more time enforcing protocol. Manfred should have known that amidst a pandemic, life and baseball can’t just go on as normal.