What’s the best way to play professional sports during a pandemic?
There are two models now being live-tested in the United States. Basketball, hockey, and soccer are using a bubble approach – essentially a bigger version of the shelter-at-home model. All 22 participating NBA teams, for example, live, practice, and work in one place, Disney World resorts in Orlando.
But Major League Baseball teams are traveling to different cities, playing in empty ballparks, and following a 113-page safety manual. Or should be. Four days into the shortened season, the Miami Marlins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Baltimore Orioles were forced to cancel games Monday due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among 12 Marlins players and two coaches. On Tuesday, more players tested positive and more games were canceled. Some called it a disaster brought on by arrogance, that is, safety protocol violations. Some called it a wake-up call.
The NBA restarts its season Thursday. The NHL returns Saturday. So far, their catered bubbles seem to be working. “The hardest adjustment probably is just not being able to do what you want to do,” Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee told the Los Angeles Times.
The Marlins outbreak may be an anomaly or a cautionary tale. And there may be lessons for less-wealthy workplaces. Be humble and follow the guidelines. Be flexible enough to adjust to changing conditions. As my high school math teacher used to say, “Work the problem.”