Mom, Apple Pie and Coronavirus?

Major League Baseball (MLB) raised eyebrows when recent comments coming out of the Commissioner’s office and from the Player’s Union suggested that MLB would try to start its season even while the national COVID–19 pandemic raged on.  Taking a page from the U.S. horseracing industry that last week ran the Florida Derby, a key pre-Triple Crown stakes race won by “Tiz the Law, without a fan in the stands, MLB is purportedly considering playing games to empty stands, but with undoubtedly “full” television audiences providing a revenue stream.  

But is this an altruistic act of helping the “country’s healing” as Commissioner Manfred has claimed, or just a callous money grab without regard to player or support personnel like the umpires and grounds crew’s health?  

And that health concern doesn’t just center on players and others around the game catching the virus; it also includes players being rushed into action without appropriate preparation or a full complement of training staff on hand, and the attendant risk of career-ending injuries.

On the surface, the Player’s Union and Commissioner’s Office are saying the right things.  It’s been reported that the players union and owners have agreed last week to start the season under three (3) conditions, that:

  • There are no bans on mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans. However, the commissioner could still consider the “use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible”;
  • There are no travel restrictions throughout the United States and Canada;
  • Medical experts determine that there would be no health risks for players, staff or fans, but with the commissioners and union still able to revisit the idea of playing in empty stadiums.

But in the same breath, the Player’s Union chief  Tony Clark suggested that the players are chomping at the bit, so to speak, to get back to playing the National Pastime, if it can be done safely.  Similarly, the Commissioner has been quoted as saying that it is his priority to try to salvage as much of the 162 game season (and its revenue) as possible, and that he is open to any and all scenarios to start playing.

But is this an altruistic act of helping the “country’s healing” as Commissioner Manfred has claimed, or just a callous money grab without regard to player or support personnel like the umpires and grounds crew’s health?  

While any televised sport at this point would be a welcome diversion for most of the cooped-up US population, how can it happen while the nation’s attention and resources are understandably focused on the pandemic? 

Virtually every major city (and TV market) important to MLB is in a state that is under some version of “shelter-in-place” or a lockdown that prevents public gatherings and any activity outside the home not deemed “essential” or “critical,” and that includes the homes of the Dodgers, Yankees/Mets, Red Sox, Twins, Rangers/Astros and so on.  And perhaps just as importantly, the homes of sports betting and gaming in the United States including Las Vegas and New Jersey, are likewise shut down or working with skeleton crews remotely under stay-at-home orders.   And it is unlikely that any state’s governor will grant an exemption to a baseball club to play in an empty stadium risking the health and welfare of players and support staff alike, and that includes Florida’s Governor De Santis, who until today when he issued a lock-down order of his own, apparently believed that the Sunshine State was immune from COVID-19’s spread.  

The stark reality is that baseball “without fans” sounds intriguing at first blush, but in reality it will run into the brick wall of the “lockdown” reality quickly.  On the other hand, once the shelter-in-place orders are slowly lifted over the next 90 days or so, limited capacity games with fans spaced-out in stadiums and a truncated season can likely resume, and just in time for desperate sports fans everywhere who are already tired of watching chess, e-sports, and endless replays of the 1985 NCAA final four.

About the contributor:

Michael is a renowned national trial attorney and strategist, having successfully tried over 40 civil and federal criminal cases in his career, including in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas and Miami.  The founding partner of a boutique litigation firm located in New York, Michael and his team represent plaintiffs and defendants  across the country in high-profile matters, including those focused in the areas of financial services, hospitality and retail, sports and sports gaming, employment including #metoo cases, construction and real estate, and general business disputes.  In addition, Michael draws on his being the most recent global head of litigation and employment matters for a publicly-traded Wall Street diversified financial services firm, to advise business clients as their outside general counsel. While in-house, Michael built and led a team of trial lawyers who tried 21 cases in a span of just 4 years, a feat very few lawyers can lay claim to. You can follow Michael on LinkedIn here.

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