COVID is catching up with U.S. professional sports again


Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden were both part of NBA health and safety protocols on Tuesday.
Photo: Getty Images

After tedious measurements taken in previous COVID years – or the alternative approach of just ignoring the virus – U.S. professional sports leagues have largely experienced 2021-2022 seasons with limited pandemic interruptions, aside from some stars who have issues with retiring vaccination. But this happy trend appears to be heading south, just as hospital admissions start to increase ahead of the expected Omicron wave in the United States.

This week, the NBA saw its first game postponements of the year when 10 of the 15 Chicago Bulls players were placed into league health and safety protocols, which require players to self-isolate after a test. positive. The apparent Chicago outbreak isn’t the only COVID exposure in the league: A little north in Milwaukee, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bucks goalie Wes Matthews are also in quarantine. Less than two hours before the Brooklyn Nets kick off against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, James Harden had to isolate himself. According to ESPN, 36 of the league’s 51 positive cases this year have occurred in the past two weeks.

In the NHL, several postponements have taken place: with nine of their players absent, the Calgary Flames have delayed three games this week. The Carolina Hurricanes have also postponed their Tuesday night game, bringing the league total to nine for suspended games this season. And with the league expected to take a hiatus next year so that players from national teams can attend the 2022 Winter Olympics, the executive director of the NHL Players Association has noted he’s growing frustrated at the lack of “concrete answers” from the Beijing organizing committee on pandemic protocols, raising concerns about how many pros will be in China in February.

The NFL, with its much larger rosters, is hit by even more cases of COVID. ESPN reports that in the past two days, 75 players have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Los Angeles Rams are one of the hardest hit teams, with 10 players, including Odell Beckham Jr., on their reserve-COVID-19 roster on Tuesday. The Cleveland Browns and the Washington football team currently have eight players each who have tested positive, while the Detroit Lions have seven in quarantine.

With the Omicron variant expected to quickly spread to the United States in the coming weeks, it’s unclear exactly how professional sports leagues will be affected and how they will respond to ensure player safety and ad revenue. The NFL, for its part, will require all staff working closely with players to get booster shots. But the athlete’s union, the NFL Players Association, couldn’t this week get the league to institute daily testing for everyone on the court, regardless of vaccination status.


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