The newest known variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, has taken hold around the world and is expected to become the most dominant viral strain as we head into 2022. Omicron is reportedly much more transmissible than vanilla covid and its previous variants, including Delta. This is a troubling development given that a fourth wave began in the fall and Omicron will further accelerate the coming winter surge.
As cases have risen in the community, professional athletes in North American winter leagues have increasingly tested positive and been held out of competition. The number of positive tests has been high enough to result in postponement of games in the NBA, NFL and NHL.
So many NBA players have been reported as under the league health and safety protocols that some have been lost in the shuffle.
Damn Woj ainít even report me being in health and safety protocol thatís tough ???
— Bobby BP Portis (@BPortistime) December 18, 2021
The NBA’s Golden State Warriors, who have returned to title contender status in the current season, opted to send only 9 players to Toronto for Saturday’s game against the Raptors. Its veterans, including MVP favorite Stephen Curry, stayed home to rest and avoid Canada’s COVID-19 protocols. Not surprisingly, the undermanned Warriors suffered a 119-110 defeat to a middling Raptors squad.
The NFL has decided to take an interesting approach to testing athletes, which has been billed as “more targeted”, ending mandatory testing for asymptomatic vaccinated players. In reality, the league is following former US President Donald Trump’s method for controlling a surge in reported cases by administering testing fewer tests, thus keeping more players on the field.
The NFL and NFLPA agreed on changes to the COVID-19 protocols, with a more targeted testing approach. pic.twitter.com/FmMWZ5IMbM
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 19, 2021
Today, the NHL announced a travel suspension.
The NHL suspends cross-border travel until after the Christmas break.
Olympic announcement coming in the next few days.
Multiple league sources tell me it's "highly unlikely" NHL players will go now that the season has been materially impacted by COVID.https://t.co/zKpd3bLz1j
— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) December 19, 2021
In a late-breaking development, the NBA has announced new hardship rules which will require teams to sign replacement players when players under contract test positive. This is a bid to preserve the NBA’s marquee Christmas Day schedule, but will fans be interested in watching development league players in the biggest games of the regular season?
Sources: NBA teams will now be required to sign one replacement player when they have two positive tests on the roster. For three positive tests, two replacement signings are required. For four positive results or more, three hardship signings required. https://t.co/tOtwOLzyb4
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 20, 2021
As the NBA prepared to resume the season in the Disney World bubble during the summer of 2020, opinionators questioned the allocation of testing resources for a non-essential activity. The noise was eventually drowned out by the headlines about the triumphant return of sports, giving the public circuses to accompany pandemic benefit bread. A rising case curve as the 2021 holiday season approaches has resulted in increased demand for rapid tests, leading writer Bradford William Davis to raise this issue once again.
the NBAís thousands of tests sound small but when nobody else has efficient test access, they are significant. Those tests *checks notes* *stares at camera* Kyrie on the court arenít helping workers we desperately need, like the person teaching your child.
— Bradford William Davis (@BWDBWDBWD) December 18, 2021
Over the last week, fans have called for a pause in schedules. I question whether that would really have any impact, as sports league cases reflect community trends. Governments in North America have been reluctant to impose meaningful restrictions since the first wave, which means individuals will be on their own to ride out another wretched winter of unmitigated spread.
With the end of popular pandemic benefits in the USA, Americans will be receiving circuses without the bread. Team owners insisted on reopening stadiums, claiming to have incurred “losses of biblical proportions” from pandemic shutdowns, but their bottom lines will surely suffer as fans lose disposable income. The current situation is not sustainable and requires bold leadership, which is anathema to leaders in both government and sports in North America.