David Chao, MD: MLB Response To Marlin Outbreak Is Crucial To Season Success

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The Marlins outbreak does not signal the end of MLB and other non-bubble pro sports. It emphasizes the importance of compliance and crisis management.

To date, 11 of 33 Miami Marlins players and coaches testing positive for CoronaVirus. That means there is a clear outbreak and a crisis at hand for Major League Baseball.  How it is handled will determine if baseball can continue as well as the outlook for other sports.

In science and medicine, finding the root of the problem is needed before it can be solved.

Canceling tonight’s Marlin’s home opener versus the Orioles is only the first step. Much more is needed. The first thing to determine is why? Was there no social distancing with the players and coaches? Was there a Marlins superspreader event? Is there a hole in the MLB protocol? Or is this indicative on the Miami home community and spread?

While that investigation happens, it is a matter of quick action and containment. Quarantining all the Marlins and whoever they have been in contact with (as has been done with the visiting clubhouse personnel) is essential. Likely more than the opener will need to be cancelled, probably the whole Orioles series as it often takes days for exposed individuals to turn positive. 

The Yankees cannot just come into Philadelphia and use the same locker room spaces as the Marlins just did and a deep clean is a minimum. That game has been postponed as well. Even though the risk to opponents in baseball is low given how the game is played and the virus spread, there is no question that the Phillies players, umpires, stadium employees and grounds crew need to be closely monitored and daily tested in the interim as no chances can be taken. This might even mean delaying today’s game and turning tomorrow into a Yankees at Phillies double-header to allow for one round of testing to come back.

Having an outbreak was inevitable. How pro sports reacts is the key to preserving the season.

Even with the success so far of bubble leagues where American soccer and lacrosse has reported no positives after initial reporting, that does not mean sports without a bubble are doomed to failure. 

Some have noted that I am “negative” on the bubble concept. That is not true. I am dubious as to the executability of a true bubble as evidenced by the NBA issues with Lou Williams hitting Magic City “for the wings” and have worry of all “eggs being in one basket”. An outbreak with one team if quick action is taken, can be contained. An outbreak inside the bubble could shut a league down immediately.

For leagues to succeed, they need virtual bubbles for each team and a big part of that is social distancing away from the facility and of course during travel. The NFLPA is so on board with this concept that in order to protect the entire union, they agreed that teams could penalize players with a non-football injury (NFI) designation and withhold salary for a player testing positive after going to a club or a bar. 

Even this morning, national NFL reporters Peter King and Mike Silver are describing the ways veterans will get the young guys to comply and this will be key as we have previously discussed.

My mantra for NFL has been since March and remains that the start of the season is more secure than finishing the season. All leagues may have cancellations/postponements of games. 

Given that normally, a NFL game is 10 times more “meaningful” than a MLB game (16 NFL regular season games versus 162 MLB games) and weather postponements happen all the time, baseball should not hesitate to cancel/postpone games aggressively to preserve the season. Given the NFL schedule playing shorthanded or forfeitures are more likely if outbreaks.

There is no magic to bubble or not bubble. Both have their risks. So far leagues are taking transgression and positive tests seriously, and that gives pro sports a chance.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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