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Athletes Wary about Virus Upon Return

COVID-19 testing protocols another concern

5/28/2020, 10:29 a.m.
Athletes worry about safety as sports teams prepare to resume competition.
Running back Chris Thompson (25) warms up before an NFL football game in this Oct. 28, 2018 archive photo from AP. Thompson was one of more than two dozen athletes from around the globe who responded to questions from AP reporters on how concerned or confident they were about resuming competition. Thompson said keeping his 4-month-old daughter safe was his biggest worry. “If I go practice or play and I come back home with the virus, she’s not strong enough yet to fight something like that,” he said.

(AP) -- Chris Thompson is an NFL running back. He also is the father of a 4-month-old daughter, Kali. Guess which of those facts matters more to him when he ponders eventually returning to work amid a pandemic.

“If I go practice or play and I come back home with the virus, she’s not strong enough yet to fight something like that. For me, that’s my biggest worry,” said Thompson, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this month after seven seasons with the Washington Redskins.

“We’re not robots out there,” he said. “People out there are saying, ‘Hey, with all that’s going on, we need sports back in our lives to get our minds off everything.’ That’s all good. But you’ve got to think about this, too: When we start back in training camp, you’re putting 90 guys from 90 different places all together ... and it happens a lot that a lot of us get sick.”

These are the sorts of thoughts those who play the games that people love to watch, discuss and gamble on are grappling with as lockdowns brought about by the coronavirus outbreak begin to ease and various sports resume competition — NASCAR and UFC, for example — or attempt to figure out how to, such as Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL.

Reporters from The Associated Press spoke to more than two dozen athletes from around the globe — representing seven countries and 11 sports — to get a sense of how concerned or confident they are about resuming competition. What emerged, above all, was a sense that they are going through the very same sort of calculus that much of the rest of society is: What is safe nowadays? How do I, and my family, stay healthy, especially with no cure or vaccine yet?

“There’s certainly an element of the unknown,” New Jersey Devils defenseman Connor Carrick said. “This has not been studied all that long still, even thought it feels like an eternity some days.”

Or as Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who has won nine Grand Slam tennis doubles titles, explained: “It’s sort of even tough to gauge what I should be worried about.”

Mattek-Sands did say she thinks those in charge of her sport will do their best to protect participants, which matched the general consensus among those the AP interviewed.

They also consider the optics.

“You’d have these billionaire (team) owners that are probably social distancing in their boxes, while you have guys on the field playing a game with no fans,” said Kelvin Beachum, an NFL free agent. “I think that would be very, very awkward.”

Nearly unanimous was a wariness about enough COVID-19 testing — what types, how many, how often — and other precautions (contact tracing, for example) that leagues, unions and governing bodies might institute as they develop protocols.

Most echoed Thompson’s sentiment that “we should have constant testing,” but there was hesitation about too many nasal swabs or blood samples.

“If the tests don’t come back for a couple of days and whatnot, how does that really work?” said two-time Olympic champion ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin. “It’s good to know if you test positive or negative. But if we’re talking about being tested today so we can race tomorrow, but the results don’t come back for two days, it doesn’t really help.”