What’s up with pro sports and the pandemic

With the NFL season looming, a lot of Eagles fans are wondering why pro leagues are adjusting to COVID-19 so differently, and why some players are sounding the alarm.

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Malcolm Jenkins

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins is one of the leaders of the NFL Players Association. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Like a lot of Philly sports fans, The Why’s Shai Ben-Yaacov is bummed he didn’t get to see the Sixers and Flyers make deep playoff runs in the spring, and has missed watching the Phillies and Union this summer. But he’s hopeful he’ll get to watch the Eagles play this fall.

The NFL plans to start training camp next month, and the regular season is supposed to start on time. However, some players are at odds with the owners over safety concerns. Each pro sports league has a different plan, leaving many fans to wonder why they’re all adjusting to COVID-19 so differently — and when they can get back to rooting for the home team.

To get the scoop on what’s happening with the leagues and local teams, we talked to our former WHYY colleague, Ty Johnson of 97.5  The Phantic.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview highlights

On how players feel about getting back on the field:

Bryce Harper has been all in, for example, for the Phillies. But Zach Wheeler, who has a pregnant wife, spoke out and did not really like how Major League Baseball was really approaching it because they didn’t really have a protocol that he thought was safe that would protect [her]. Now, it appears that he’s happy what they’re doing right now. But there have been some rumblings on the Eagles. Billy Jackson plays defensive tackle for the Eagles. He talked about how the league “treats us like dollar signs” … because he doesn’t think the NFL has really had a protocol that keeps them safe …

People always look at the athlete and say, “Oh, they’re overpaid. They get paid to play a game most times.” But NFL players get looked at at least a little bit differently … For every Carson Wentz that we know about, you know, the Eagles starting quarterback, there’s 20, 30, 40, ADLs, guys who are far from rich and will never be rich. Yet they pay a tremendous physical toll. And I think that when you have a a bunch of very, very rich people … telling 32 players times 53, “Oh, shut up and just play, you’ll be fine,” that, I think, does resonate with people and it’s been wise for certain players to come forward. The question is going to be, though, can they actually do anything about it? Because in the past, no matter how much the players kick and scream, they always cave again because they have such a finite period to make that money again, a three-and-a-half-year average career.

On local players testing positive for COVID-19:

The only one that we know for sure is Scott Kingery on the Phillies. He absolutely got COVID-19 down in Texas while he was training during the downtime before they started their summer training in the beginning of July. He said it put him right on his butt for a couple of weeks. He was finally able to join the team because by protocol, you have to have a 14-day mandatory quarantine away from teammates once you test positive.  And then you must have not one, but two consecutive negative tests before you’re allowed to return to your team … There were a couple Sixers officials who also caught it early, but we never got names on them. Apparently, no Sixers players actually caught it.

On how pro-sports’ disjointed approach reflects the nationwide response:

If there was national leadership that came down and said, “This is the amount of risk we’re okay with, this is the amount of risk we’re not OK with,  this is what we need to do,” … if there was a national call for unity as far as protocol, things would be going much better. But because there’s not, you’re just leaving it up to a bunch of people.

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