Saturday Sports: Hockey and Basketball Follow MLB As Athletes Compete In 'Bubbles'
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
And it's time now for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FADEL: The Major League Baseball season is well underway. Teams are traveling around the country, but players are getting sick. Meanwhile, other leagues are staying put and, for the moment, staying healthy. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to discuss. Hey, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi. How are you?
FADEL: I'm doing well. So it started with the Miami Marlins, and now players and staff on several teams have tested positive for COVID. And more than a dozen games are now postponed. How is the league reacting?
GOLDMAN: With increasing urgency. Starting today, there will be shortened seven-inning double-headers to help play a growing backlog of postponed games. Compliance officers are now required on each team to make sure players are following health and safety measures because some are not. You watch games, and players are spitting. They are high-fiving. They are hugging. They are not supposed to do that. Major League Baseball's investigation into the Marlins outbreak - at least 21 team members infected - reportedly found some players are very lax, going to bars, et cetera. According to multiple reports, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred told the head of the players' union, Tony Clark, if players don't start behaving, he - Manfred - will shut down the season as soon as Monday, meaning this weekend is critical for baseball to change behavior to keep the positive test results from climbing.
FADEL: So the National Hockey League starts its season today, and there's a new term for what they're doing - right? - bubbling. What is that?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Kind of like cuddling. No, bubbling...
GOLDMAN: Living and playing in a protective bubble to reduce the risk of infection - what baseball is not doing. It's playing in and traveling to all 30 of its major league cities. Now, in hockey's case, the 24 teams restarting the season with the playoffs - beginning today, they're gathering in two cities in Canada, Toronto and Edmonton, which also will host the Stanley Cup finals. Teams essentially will be quarantined in those cities.
Now, these sports bubbles, so far, seem to work. It's reported the most recent testing for NHL players in the hub cities showed zero positive results. Men's and women's pro soccer and the NBA and WNBA also have minimal or no cases of COVID-19, and they are in bubbles of their own.
FADEL: So cuddles - bad in a pandemic; bubbling - good in a pandemic.
GOLDMAN: You got it.
FADEL: So pro soccer, hockey - they're staying put, but we're also seeing that with the WNBA, the NBA. And that takes us to the other main theme in pro sports right now, social justice. These basketball players have come out strong, right?
GOLDMAN: And they really have. You know, remember, Leila, the last few years, when Colin Kaepernick and a handful of other African American athletes were singled out...
GOLDMAN: ...And in Kaepernick's case blacklisted, for kneeling during the national anthem, since the start of the NBA season on Thursday, entire teams are kneeling, coaches and staff included - Black players, white players. Of course, the WNBA also very involved in these actions.
Now, an indication of how the narrative has changed so quickly, those getting a lot of attention now are the people choosing to stand during the anthem, including African American NBA player Jonathan Isaac, San Antonio coaches Gregg Popovich and his assistant Becky Hammon. Now, Popovich has been one of the most outspoken individuals in all of sports on social justice issues. So it's fascinating that it's making people think now about what social activism means and that it's more than just embracing the symbols of activism, which are very prevalent in sports right now with signs at stadiums and arenas and messages printed on jerseys and sneakers.
FADEL: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.