If the NHL returns to play, deputy commissioner Bill Daly says players will be tested daily for Covid-19. In doing so, the league is sending an important message. Player safety is paramount, and there’s no price they won’t pay to ensure it.
“It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Daly said.
Comprehensive testing has remained a significant hurdle for any professional sports league returning to play. The amount of personnel involved in staging games makes oversight difficult. In the case of the NHL, the league is allowing teams to travel a maximum of 50 personnel to their respective hub cities, which means accounting for more than 1,000 people.
Daly called the NHL’s planned testing protocols “rigorous,” saying players will be screened in the evening and have the results before leaving their hotel room in the morning. If there’s a positive test, the league would have a player, coach or staff member go into self-quarantine. Early identification would allow the NHL to swiftly provide health care resources, depending on the severity of the illness, and potentially avoid having to pause operations again.
As a result, the league is investing a large sum of money into testing kits. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says tests cost roughly $125, and the league would use an estimated 25,000-35,000 for the postseason. At that price, the league could be looking at an expenditure of more than $40 million. But the NHL’s willingness to lay out that kind of money is resonating with its players.
“It shows the league is putting safety first but still wants to give us the opportunity to finish out a season that we all worked so hard at,” said Ottawa Senators center Jayce Hawryluk.” It’s nice to have the comfort of knowing you are being tested, [and] personally, I think most of my buddies who play would say the same thing as me.”
And even though Hawryluk’s Senator’s did not qualify for the expanded playoff format, his concerns reflect a common sentiment among athletes not only in hockey but in all of professional sports. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Chris Thompson has a 4-month old child at home, and openly expressed his concerns about returning to the workplace and ensuring his family’s safety.
“If I go practice or play and I come back home with the virus…that’s my biggest worry,” Thompson said, according to the Associated Press. “We’re not robots out there. 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.”
There’s still much to learn about Covid-19. And it’s unclear when or if a vaccine or viable treatment option will be available. According to ESPN, Bettman also was adamant that the NHL wouldn’t “endanger the supply of [test kits] for the general public. Medical advisors to the league have indicated the number of tests needed for the Stanley Cup playoffs would be “a relatively insignificant number” by summer.
“There’s certainly an element of the unknown,” New Jersey Devils defenseman Connor Carrick said, according to the Associated Press. “This has not been studied all that long still, even though it feels like an eternity some days.”
But while the world awaits the necessary answers, the NHL’s capacity for empathy has generated progress toward a return. By prioritizing the players’ concerns, the league is now having a moment. Hockey could be the first of the four major American sports to return.
Comparatively speaking, Major League Baseball had a chance to own the summer sports market. Instead, MLB’s owners and players’ association remain deadlocked in a bitter dispute, calling into question whether there’s baseball in 2020. And the aftermath is driving fans away.
The NHL is doing the opposite. The league is giving fans a reason to be excited by appeasing a key concern among its players. Hockey could be one step closer to a return.
“They’re doing everything they can,” Hawryluk said. “It sounds like [they’re] covering all angles.”
Source: Forbes Business