As baseball moves closer to a potential return in the post-pandemic new normal (if owners and players can figure out the financial aspect of a truncated season), the game will be implementing procedures that will be distinctly abnormal in light of long-established practices.
Via Jeff Passan of ESPN.com, a working draft of Major League Baseball’s revamped health and safety manual includes a prohibition on spitting, chewing tobacco, and gnawing on mouthfuls of sunflower seeds.
Coronaball also will exclude fist bumps and hugs, socializing with opponents, and any attempt by first- and third-base coaches to approach baserunners or umpires. Likewise, the ritual of throwing the ball “around the horn” after an out will be discouraged, and any ball will be removed from play after being touched by multiple players.
And while the stands won’t have fans, players and team personnel not participating in the game will move from the dugout to the seats usually reserved for paying customers, with at least six feet between them.
The document is subject to change, with teams asked to provide input by Friday.
Players also will have their temperatures screened multiple times per day, and certain individuals will be tested for the coronavirus multiple times per week. As recently explained by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, players who test positive will be quarantined, but a positive test for specific players won’t shut down an entire team.
These arguably extreme efforts to keep players and other necessary individuals from getting in close proximity and/or otherwise shedding virus on each other create an obvious contrast with the unavoidably close quarters in which football players operate. Exchange of saliva and respiratory droplets will be inevitable when 22 men line up for blocking and tackling and bumping and running; that will make rigorous and repeated testing even more important for pro football than for any other sport.
Again, the NFL has the benefit of time — time to monitor other sports, time to allow for advances to be made in testing and treatment, time to devise procedures that will limit the spread of the virus without changing the fundamental nature of the game. Still, baseball’s proposed safety measures illustrate the challenge the NFL will face to prevent the virus from migrating among teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials.
In football, the only way to guard against infection will be to ensure that everyone who enters a practice facility, a locker room, a bus, an airplane, and/or a field of play does not have the virus. Otherwise, it can and will spread like wildfire.