Professional sports leagues should follow the NBA bubble to ensure athlete safety

Meg Gross, Editor-In-Chief

To many Americans, the events of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States seemed to be changing every minute. One would fall asleep having no idea what the world would look like when they woke up the next morning.   

In a span of a single week in March, Americans watched in shock as their favorite sports were brought to a sudden halt. Sports fans quickly learned just how much we value watching our favorite teams every weekend. 

On March 11, thousands of NBA fans packed into Chesapeake Energy Arena expecting to watch a Utah Jazz vs Oklahoma City Thunder game. Instead, the game was cancelled due to Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19, and later that night, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. The NBA would announce that night that they would suspend the remainder of the season until further notice. 

After a long and eventful, yet disappointing, three months, the NBA began their six phase protocol to resume the season, which included mandatory COVID-19 tests every other day and the teams being completely isolated from the outside world in their own zone within Disney World, known as the “Bubble.”

The NBA Bubble never burst.

— Meg Gross

Entering the Bubble was no simple task. Teams, media, and staff were required to quarantine upon entrance as well as passing two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. With a requirement of masks as well as isolation among the teams’ assigned hotels, the NBA was able to safely resume the season with 22 of the 30 NBA teams.

Upon arrival and once individuals tested negative for COVID-19 twice consecutively, they were permitted to leave the strict quarantining of their hotel rooms. Inside the quarantined hotels, players were able to swim, fish, golf, and game with the help of “MagicBands,” that were modified with trackers to assure individuals were following the guidelines. These MagicBands also helped with contract tracing in connection with proximity alarms, which would sound every time a player was within six feet of another for over ten seconds. No fans were allowed to attend games, though they were shown cheering on their teams virtually via a giant court-side LED screen. 

Though arguably some of this year’s best games were played within the end of the NBA season, the best stat to leave the Bubble is that over a course of almost 100 days, there was not a single positive case of COVID-19. The NBA Bubble never burst. 

As we’ve learned from COVID-19, sports is important, not just to the economy, or to the lives of the players involved, but to the lives of billions of sports fans across the globe. In America, we’ve never seen such a time without sports, even through world wars, atomic threats, and even previous pandemics. The NBA was able to safely establish a sense of normalcy during a rather disappointing year controlled by COVID-19.

With no similar bubble protocol in place for leagues like the NFL, their seasons remain just as much in jeopardy as the seasons of sports leagues back in March. In fact, we’ve already seen COVID-19 make an appearance in both college and NFL football as well as the MLB. 

Multiple teams in the NFL have now had to opt out of games due to COVID-19 cases within their rosters, like the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. We’ve also seen cases spring up among NCAA football players and coaches, including Alabama Tide head coach Nick Saban and Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen.

It seems as though instead of working to establish a safe way for teams to continue their seasons among a pandemic, these leagues would rather just “rough through it.” 

The current COVID-19 protocol for the NFL puts positive testing individuals on a COVID-19 reserve list until medically cleared to return. According to the NFL, from the beginning of the season to Oct. 26, 3.5% of nearly 2,600 returning players have wound up on the COVID-19 reserve list. Ten NFL games have already been postponed due to these cases, giving nine teams a bye week in place of their scheduled game. No other professional sports league in the country has seen this many positive cases among their teams, not even the MLB.

But previously under similar circumstances as the NFL, the MLB couldn’t even make it to two full weeks without an outbreak, forcing six teams to quarantine and postponing 20 games at the beginning of their resumption, according to The Atlantic.  

Though the idea of a bubble for such a big league like the NFL might seem unrealistic. too late or far too expensive, it is the only way to ensure the safety of all its players, coaches, and staff while continuing the sporting events that so many Americans look forward to.

As more sports leagues embark on their seasons during a still unknown time, they should follow the NBA’s footsteps in ensuring the safety of its athletes. The NBA Bubble should be the blueprint.