MIAMI — Politicians, players and owners are trying to figure out a way to get baseball, basketball and hockey going again, not only for economic reasons but as a welcome diversion for a social distancing nation facing uncertain times.
But to do so would require commandeering thousands of test kits each week for millionaire pro athletes and support staff, something many view as unseemly, especially when ordinary Americans are waiting in line.
Leagues know it would be a terrible look for them to jump the testing line. Acutely aware of the potential backlash, commissioners and owners are saying that, until the public has more access to testing, they don’t want to secure tests for players. The NBA even told teams in a memo Thursday that it would be inappropriate to test asymptomatic players and coaches for now — but the league does expect to have testing available when it’s time to return to practices and games.
The NBA plans to allow teams to reopen some facilities May 8, but only for voluntary workouts and in cities where local governments allow. And there is no timetable yet for a return to practices and games, in large part because the testing issue remains unsolved.
“We would have to ensure that testing is widely available and front-line health care workers have access, before we begin talking about regular testing in the context of professional sports,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said.
The economic impact of sports not happening is beyond enormous: From athletes — NBA players alone stand to lose roughly $850 million in salaries if this season doesn’t resume — to the thousands of part-time workers around stadiums. Broadcasters have lost millions and furloughed thousands of workers, and sports books saw nearly 80 percent less action this March than they did in March 2019. All of the above reduces tax revenue to local governments.
President Donald Trump wants sports back for both economic and morale reasons, knowing that once games start getting played again, Americans will have something to cheer for — whether fans are in the stands or not. Sports leaders have met with the White House multiple times to discuss that goal. Trump has been told testing availability is critical to any restart plans, a person with direct knowledge of those talks told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because few details of the conversations were to be publicly shared.
“I don’t want people to get used to this because this virus is going to be gone,” Trump said in a White House coronavirus briefing. “And when it’s gone, you want to get back to normal.”
According to Major League Baseball, 3,000 kits would need to be available for players, staff, broadcasters and others for every round of testing to get its season going and keep it going. Even if the NHL and NBA return with just 16 postseason teams on the ice and courts, those leagues would likely require tests for a minimum of 1,000 players and staff. And there’s no telling how often — Daily? Every few days? Weekly? — the tests would be required to be administered.
With tests still in short supply, that’s not a great look.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum, AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi, AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer and Associated Press Writer Jason Dearen contributed.