The heads of six major sports leagues came together for a remote discussion on their potential return to the playing field – offering both optimism and frustration about their current situations.
ESPN’s “The Return of Sports” special aired Monday night with commissioners of the NBA, WNBA, NFL, NHL, MLS and MLB joining together to talk with Mike Greenberg about their respective plans. Social issues were also a large topic of conversation, particularly for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Players across the league have spoken out against resuming play amid ongoing national protests though Silver expressed confidence that the league will be able to address all concerns with players and work towards a solution.
“Things are changing around us,” Silver said on the special. “The social unrest in the country was — in the same way we never could have predicted the pandemic would unfold, in the way it has — what’s happened since George Floyd’s death is also unprecedented. I’m incredibly sympathetic and empathetic to what’s happening in people’s lives. And in the midst of all that, to say, ‘We’re looking for an opportunity to restart this league, to try to move forward with crowning a champion,’ it’s not top of mind for a lot of people.”
Silver later admitted that he does not view any financial obstacles as a primary concern. Instead, he sees a chance to restart as a way to bring back a sense of normalcy to the country and provide healing for the country.
“The incremental difference between, at this point, playing and not playing, isn’t nearly as great as people think, especially given the enormous expense in putting this on. Really, it’s more a sense from the entire NBA community that we have an obligation to try this, because the alternative is to stay on the sidelines … in essence, give in to this virus,” Silver said. “For us, we feel that this is what we do: We put on NBA basketball. We think that for the country, it’ll be a respite [from] the enormous difficulties people are dealing with in their lives right now.”
The NFL had the benefit of being in its offseason at the onset of the pandemic and is planning on soon seeing teams return for training camps with some safety modifications. However, Commissioner Roger Goodell offered an interesting take on one of the most controversial topics to hit the league in recent years when he encouraged teams to sign former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us, guide us, help us make better decisions about the kinds of things that need to be done in the communities,” Goodell said of Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since 2016 when he spearheaded protests against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem at games. “We have invited him in before, and we want to make sure that everybody’s welcome at that table and trying to help us deal with some very complex, difficult issues that have been around for a long time. But I hope we’re at a point now where everybody’s committed to making long-term, sustainable change.”
Goodell remains hopeful that no changes will be made to the 2020 season and that officials are prepared to deal with potential positive COVID-19 cases within the league. However, talks were not as rosy for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has watched chances of a baseball season go up in flames after weeks of player negotiations led to no agreement.
The MLB Players Association rejected the league’s most recent proposal and instead challenged Manfred to set in motion a schedule, which is said to be only around 50 games. The recent turn of events had the commissioner reverse his previous position that a season would be guaranteed.
“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans,” Manfred said of the ongoing feud between owners and players largely focused on compensation. “The owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m 100 percent certain that’s gonna happen.”
Manfred’s comments – coupled with the move to not go forward in setting a season plan unless the union waives its right to claim that management violated a March agreement – continued fuel the fire between both sides.
“Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told Players and fans that there would ‘100%’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season,” union chief Tony Clark said in a statement. “Any implication that the Players Association has somehow delayed progress on health and safety protocols is completely false.”