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Week In Sports: A Look At How Sports Leagues Are Handling COVID-19

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The NFL Hall of Fame Game - canceled. What does that spell for the fall season? And the NBA has announced that 5% of its players have been diagnosed with COVID-19. We're joined now by our friend Howard Bryant of ESPN. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine. Thank you, my friend.

BRYANT: Are you following your voluntary non-guidelines?

SIMON: (Laughter) Yes, I am. I'm following my family's guidelines. They tell me what I can and cannot do, and it's - you know, they keep a tight rein on me. Listen; this Hall of Fame Game was supposed to be played, I guess, August 6 in Canton, Ohio - the Steelers and the Cowboys. What does canceling that game portend for the fall season?

BRYANT: Well, it's really one of the first acknowledgements by the NFL that there is a pandemic. Ever since this has happened, we've been waiting to hear what the NFL's plan was in case there wasn't going to be a season or in case things spiked. And the NFL really did not acknowledge anything. It was full speed ahead, and let the other sports and let the rest of the society deal with it.

And now this sends the message that things aren't going to go as smoothly as I think they may have planned. I think they felt they were perfectly positioned because they play in the fall and that the weather was going to be warm for the Hall of Fame Game and all of these different things were going to ride in their favor. And now you see that's not the case.

So I think we're going to see - at least you're going to have to see over the next few weeks - beginnings of contingency plans for the NFL if they expect to have any sort of games because the numbers are not trending in the right direction for any of the sports.

SIMON: Yeah. The NBA, which, of course, is planning to go ahead and play a handful of games (laughter) and determine a championship, has announced the fact...

BRYANT: In the bubble.

SIMON: In the bubble, exactly. But 5% of their players around the country have tested positive for COVID-19.

BRYANT: Yeah. And this is another example where you say, OK, let's get on with it. But at the same time, you have to think about what the players are being asked to do. You're asked to be away from your families in pretty much isolation for the next few months. Commissioner Adam Silver said yesterday that there are no 100%, you know, safe options and - which is another way of saying, let's get on with it.

And it really does look - even though these are the sentiments - that everything is trending in the other direction, where we were supposed to say the warm weather was going to calm this down and that there was going to be a window to play. But it really does not look like the professional sports' plan is to do anything more than to say, look; we've got to live with this.

And the players are at risk. I really have some appreciation for the NBA players who are going to opt out. The real question is going to be if they do choose to conscientiously opt out, is there going to be some repercussions for them somewhere down the line? That's really the big fear. I think that when you're looking at what the NBA is asking the players to do, it's a tough place that they're in. Are you going to sacrifice an NBA championship?

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And what are your teammates going to think of you? But I start to think, really, more about worst-case scenarios.

SIMON: The worst-case scenarios obviously being that some of the people who've tested positive could become very sick, right? And...

BRYANT: Well, and you see that - in college football, you see that Clemson had 14 more, so they've got 37 players who have tested positive. And we're in July - in June. It's not even July yet.

SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant, thanks so much for being with us. Talk to you soon.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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