On Sunday, Toronto FC was set to resume its Major League Soccer season with a 9 a.m. game against D.C. United.
At 9:17 a.m., the team sent out a statement saying the game had been postponed. Tests from the day before produced “an initial unconfirmed positive COVID-19 case” for one player and “an inconclusive test” for another.
Like the NBA, MLS is bubbling on Disney property in Florida. The soccer league has had weeks to prepare. Measured against other, bigger leagues, its logistical problems should be fewer and smaller. And it has thus far been a disaster.
The month-long tournament meant to replace the season was delayed because teams couldn’t manage to get to Florida. They kept returning positive tests, or waiting so long for results they had to start the process over again.
After arriving in Orlando, FC Dallas registered so many positives (10 players and one staffer) the team decided to pull out.
A few days after Dallas’s withdrawal, Nashville SC had nine players test positive. It also abandoned ship.
These outfits were supposed to arrive contagion-free. So that part was either botched, or they got it inside the bubble or some combination thereof. But clearly, the call is coming from inside MLS’s house.
What we have here is a health issue. But the health issue is difficult to overcome, so MLS is doing what corporations do with all pernicious problems – turn them into communications issues.
Now we’ve got to the gobbledygook stage of updates. What is an “initial unconfirmed positive” test? It sounds like you’re on the coronavirus waiting list -- “COVID’s busy right now, but he told us to say he really likes you and may be back to infect you later.”
Once someone starts talking gibberish, your hand should instinctively move to your wallet. You are about to be fleeced.
When the NHL announced its restart plan, there was a Top Secret clause inserted:
“Absent prior approval by the league … there shall be no disclosure by the club to the media or to the public of information relating to a positive test result or to a person developing COVID-19 symptoms.”
Let’s try this in real-person terms: I’ve been at my house in Arizona, but I’d prefer to be in your house in Edmonton. Is that okay with you? Great. How am I getting there? Don’t worry about that. I’ll figure it out. How am I feeling? Fine, I guess. I gotta say, I don’t appreciate you asking. Listen, you may hear me coughing and moaning in my (ie your) room, but just mind your own business. I’ll decide if there’s anything you need to know. Now tell one of the neighbours to come over and fix me dinner.
If nothing else, you have to admire the NHL’s cheek. This isn’t a family of four being reunited after a long separation. It’s a business asking Canadians for a special favour. And our reward for granting it is being told to shut up and leave them alone.
But in terms of boldness, Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays win the prize.
Baseball is in the early stages of resumption. The whole thing is already a mess.
Several stars – mainly those who’ve already made their money and don’t need one season of pro-rated salary – have opted out. Ten teams that declared their rosters clear of infection and had begun camp have since had positive tests.
Whatever MLB’s process is – and that remains opaque beyond the science-y sounding boilerplate – it isn’t working.
With that in mind, the Blue Jays would still like permission to fly opponents and themselves in and out of Toronto for the next few months.
When it was pointed out that ballplayers would face the same legal remedies as anyone else if they were caught breaking quarantine, Jays third baseman Travis Shaw did an online double-take.
“We were told two weeks … not all summer … all summer is a bit much,” Shaw tweeted. After a further think, he declared a season of quarantine “not an option.”
(If I owned a sports team, the first in my 12 Rules for Success would be, “Whenever you see someone holding a phone, slap it out of their hand.”)
Marcus Stroman, who continues to be the most interesting Blue Jay a year after he was traded, wandered in with some social-media lighter fluid (“Guys are going to be walking around in full disguises. LOL”). Then we had a nice, little roast.
Stroman later unclarified his statements: “I didn’t say it wasn’t necessary … I’m just saying it doesn’t seem realistic.”
Bingo. None of this is realistic.
As usually happens, a lot of people ripped Shaw for the sin of being forthright. Instead, he ought to be congratulated. He’s showing average people the respect some sports leagues can’t be bothered with – by being up front with them.
Right now, we need much more transparency, rather than the far less we’re being offered.
Because while it didn’t actually matter if Player X on Team Y had a slight, moderate or serious tear of his meniscus, it does actually matter that we know which teams are out there in our communities spreading the bug around like human leaf blowers.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ plan cannot work unless every single player, including Shaw, is on board with it. Shaw’s not on board with it.
Well, he wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, when the Jays pushed him out to explain why he didn’t mean what he meant.
“I shouldn’t have said what I said,” Shaw said. “I do not want this to become a distraction, to become a story.”
A little late for that.
It’s no surprise the Jays want to play in Toronto this year. What is a bit of a wonder is that the rest of us are still considering it.
How much convincing does Toronto need that this a bad idea? One of the team’s everyday players has told us they don’t want to do it. The rest of baseball is proving they can’t.
According to The Buffalo News, the Jays have asked about playing in that city at the not-quite-major-league facility that houses their Triple-A team. What a wonderful alternative.
Let’s wish the Blue Jays on their merry, regular-season way. We’ll enjoy following them from a distance. How great a distance? That’s their choice, just as long as there is at least one international border between us and them.
Somewhere more easygoing and less curious, where they can control information all they like, while spreading good vibes (and perhaps other things).