As the COVID-19 outbreak continued its rapid spread around the United States — which may be far more rapid than initially believed due to the lack of testing available — sports leagues were quickly changing their tune about how to address the issue. The NCAA was the first to announce they would be playing games behind closed doors during the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, with the NBA and other leagues expected to follow suit on Thursday.
However, Wednesday brought news of the first positive test for the Coronavirus by a player, as the Jazz-Thunder game was postponed right before tipoff after the Jazz learned Rudy Gobert had tested positive. Given how quickly illnesses spread around the NBA as players play each other and even things like team charter planes are shared, the league had no choice but to suspend its season indefinitely as they figure out how widespread this problem is — we learned Thursday morning that Donovan Mitchell had also tested positive for the virus.
The question then became whether other leagues would also go so far as to suspend play, and on Thursday, Major League Soccer became the next league to do just that, as reported by Grant Wahl and shortly after confirmed by Paul Tenorio.
MLS is suspending its season immediately until further notice due to coronavirus, a source with knowledge of the situation tells Sports Illustrated.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) March 12, 2020
Breaking: Multiple sources at MLS teams have been told the league is is suspending games immediately in order to fully assess the situation.
— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) March 12, 2020
MLS made it official shortly after and issued the following statement, saying the league will officially be put on pause for 30 days:
“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season – based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and other public health authorities, and in the best interest of our fans, players, officials and employees,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “We’d like to thank our fans for their continued support during this challenging time.”
The Gobert news was likely a wake up call to many in pro sports that just because the assumption is most healthy young people will fight it off without much harm, the danger of it spreading through a pro sports league — where players interact with fans, their families, coaches, and others — is too high of a risk to go forward without proper testing.
How long the leagues will be shut down and how they proceed after remain to be seen, but that’s a secondary concern to helping slow the spread both in the stands and on the field or court.