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Is it Ethically Appropriate to Open Sporting Events During the Coronavirus?

Public Health vs. The Psyche of Society

Each of the major sports leagues are planning to resume play/open during the next month or so. Is it the right time to open up given the current state of the coronavirus outbreak? This question raises ethical issues that need to be addressed.

Freedom of Movement

The U.S. Constitution grants the freedom of movement for all citizens. Starting any of the sports leagues probably means segregating players, team officials and staff from the rest of society to the extent possible. For example, all players may be confined to one hotel and be unable to interact with the general public. Do the major sports leagues have a right to restrict free movement?

Also, what should be done if players are quarantined and their spouse gets sick or, in the case of Mike Trout, his wife gives birth in August. Should the affected players be allowed to take time off? Do they have to be quarantined for 14 days upon return?

Health and Safety of Players, Officials, Staff…

First and foremost, the decision-makers in each sports league and owners of the teams must be certain that all affected individuals can be tested every day for the virus and contact tracing must be set in place. Given that a vaccine probably will not be available before early next year, treatment protocols must be in place before play starts/resumes.

Sports team have to deal with the issue of segregating players as much as possible during the game in the dugout or on the bench. This will be challenging to say the least. A bigger issue is what to do if a player(s) refuse to play because of safety concerns. Does the player get suspended or otherwise punished? Hopefully, the teams would allow for this albeit without players being paid during the time they refuse to play.

Another issue is what to do if an outbreak occurs during the season. Should teams quarantine the affected players? Presumably, the answer would be yes. But, what should be done about others on the team? The best approach is to test everyone and quarantine those who show signs of the virus in case it is not already being done. If the outbreak gets extensive, then shutting down for a while may be necessary. At least the leagues need to think about the possibility and plan for the worst. Fans

Responsibility to Society

Do sports leagues have a responsibility to society to resume as soon as possible regardless of the potential costs? After all, the U.S. is a sports-loving society. Many of us feel better – healthier – when we can root for our team. There is a wellness component to having our sporting events play out in real time. We may not be able to go to the games at first but just watching the games would bring warm feelings and, in some respects, our teams’ success becomes our success.

Economic Effects

Even though the stadiums will be empty at first, there still are many positive economic effects on our economy during the sports season. Players, team officials and staff will be staying at out of town hotels when on the road and eating in local restaurants. Many sports fans will go to sports bars, with proper precautions (i.e., social distancing, masks),  to root for their favorite team.

There will be more jobs fulfilled and a lowering of the unemployment rate. The GDP (gross domestic product) will increase. Some may say these are not ethical issues but they are from the perspective of our economic health.

The costs and benefits of opening are many. All parties involved need to sit down and discuss a solid game plan that is nimble in case changes need to be made. Most important, the possible consequences of one or more events occurring must be considered (i.e., widespread outbreaks during the playing season) and how to handle them. The watchwords are to be prepared for all contingencies.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 2, 2020. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Dr. Mintz’s activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: