In Sickness and In Sports: How Major Leagues are Tackling This New Wave of COVID-19


Pro sports may be back in full swing, but that doesn’t mean that they’re back to how they once were before the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped our way of life on its head and has caused us to change our ways and adapt quickly, and the world of pro sports is no exception. Different sports organizations have different approaches, but their end goal is to continue to keep playing games with fans in attendance.

Opening day for the NHL took place on October 12th, 2021 and there were many safety precautions taken going into the season. Just days before opening day, the NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman reported “Four players, not four percent of players [were not fully vaccinated]. All of our officials are vaccinated. All of the personnel that come into contact with the players are vaccinated.”  

Despite high vaccination rates throughout the league, there have still been COVID-19 outbreaks among teams and throughout the league, with numerous games being postponed as a result. As of December 31, 2021, there have been 90 postponed games, with most of the recent ones being postponed due to restrictions imposed by Canadian cities. Because the NHL features teams from both the United States and Canada, COVID-19 restrictions from both countries must be accommodated. 

The league also imposed enhanced restrictions on the players and staff in mid December, in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19 throughout teams and the league as a whole. Some of these restrictions include: having to wear masks at all times when traveling or in public, not being able to eat out at public restaurants unless in private rooms, players and everyone who comes in close contact with them having to get COVID tested daily, along with numerous other safety measures. The league is doing all that they can to keep the season going and to keep fans at games.

Unlike its approach to the 2019-2020 season, the NBA has elected to not conduct its 2021-2022 season in a bubble. The bubble paid off for the league, allowing them to finish their 2019-2020 season with zero cases, but no fans could be in attendance of games. For the 2021-2022 season the league has opened back up, allowing for fans to attend games and for teams to travel across the country.  

It was reported in mid December that within the league, 97% of eligible players are vaccinated and 65% have also received their booster shots. Despite these high rates, there have still been COVID-19 breakouts within certain teams and the league as a whole, which has resulted in players missing games and numerous games being postponed. At the start of the season, vaccinated players were not required to get regularly tested, but with an increase in cases, now all players and staff will be tested on game days except for those who received their booster shots 14 or more days in advance or those who have recently recovered from COVID-19. New precautions have also been put in place so that masks are required for players and staff when on the benches, in the teams’ workout facilities and while traveling with the team. 

The start of the NFL season showed players and fans eager to get back to games and back to a sense of normalcy. The season started off strong, with few cases and games going as planned. Vaccination rates were looking good, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even reporting on September 2nd that all players, coaches and staff members were fully vaccinated. Shortly before the Buccaneers, the Atlanta Falcons reported that their organization was fully vaccinated as well.

As the season progressed there were outbreaks of COVID-19 among teams, though.  Multiple games had to be rescheduled in Week 15 due to outbreaks of the virus among teams and many players being put on the league’s COVID-19 list, making them ineligible to play in games.  The season ended strong though, and on December 15th, 2021, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, reported that 94.6% of players are vaccinated and nearly 100% of NFL personnel were vaccinated. The league requires all unvaccinated individuals to test daily and for all vaccinated individuals to test once a week, though they can elect to test more often if they feel it is needed or that they would like to.  Like the other pro sports organizations, the NFL is making strives to keep its players, fans, coaches, and staff healthy while still being able to play games.

Across all pro sports, the COVID 19 pandemic is still at the forefront of the minds of everyone who is involved. There are different approaches being taken among the NHL, NBA or NFL, but the end goal is to keep everyone involved safe and at low risk of contracting COVID-19. At the end of the day, sports should be about ensuring that safety is a number one priority, not sickness.