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Week In Sports: COVID-19 Hits Locker Rooms As Sports Teams Plan To Return

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And no game outscores the coronavirus. Major League Baseball has shut all 30 spring-training facilities in Florida and Arizona, which really now ought to be called summer-training facilities, after players on the Phillies and the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team all tested positive for the coronavirus. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And we should be accurate - it's not clear any of the players have symptoms or have been hospitalized. MLB says all of the facilities are going to be deep cleaned. But are they running out of time for any kind of baseball season?

GOLDMAN: You know, it seems like MLB is facing a moment of truth here. Can it pull off this restart and have robust health and safety protocols in place to keep it running when the positive tests happen? And as you note, they're happening. Baseball players and owners haven't yet agreed on a final set of protocols, however. They also haven't agreed on finances, as you might have heard.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: The fighting over money and the number of games to play when and if a season happens appears to be over, but it's a very hostile cease fire. If Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred goes ahead and unilaterally imposes a very short regular season, about 50 games, players are expected to file a grievance claiming they're owed up to $1 billion in pay. Now, all this is against a warning this week from health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. The baseball needs to get everything done - including completing the postseason by the end of September. Because if baseball goes into October as it always does, the virus could flare in the colder fall months and wipe out the playoffs. So yeah, time is short.

SIMON: Meanwhile, the NFL is watching all of this as it tries to figure out how to have a season. Let's bring in Dr. Fauci again.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. He weighed in this week, saying football should consider the bubble idea that other leagues are planning where athletes and team personnel are isolated from the larger community. They're tested every day. Fauci says if this - if the NFL doesn't consider this, it would be very hard to see how football can be played this fall. Now, the NFL's chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, responded by saying it's not practical or appropriate to construct a bubble. He says the NFL is developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program, and rigorous protocols that call for shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem.

SIMON: I was about to say it would be a shame if the number of head concussions in football would go down this - you know, this season. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: I know, yeah, exactly. You know, and speaking of that ecosystem, LA Rams Head Coach Sean McVay - one person in that ecosystem - he's skeptical of what Dr. Sills said. He said this week, we're going to social distance but play football? It's really hard for me to understand all this. I don't get it. I really don't.

SIMON: Yeah. And we will just note 23 football players on Clemson's team have tested positive - but, again, asymptomatic. But it does underscore - these are college athletes. They're not soldiers in a shooting war.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It's important to note with all the athletes - college and pro - they're young and healthy. Stats show they do better with the virus - that's important to be said. But pro leagues and the NCAA really can't go in with this attitude.

SIMON: Yeah. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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