Dr. Fauci Sees Narrow Path for Return of NBA, Other Sports

Dr. Anthony Fauci

Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci (L), director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks next to Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx, during a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards D-LA in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on April 29, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

If there is one person from whom NBA commissioner Adam Silver will take advice when it comes to getting the league started again, it is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on the coronavirus task force assembled by President Donald Trump and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.

And Fauci, it seems, is at least open to the idea of playing games without fans with quarantined players.

In an interview with the New York Times in which Fauci was mostly cautious about the re-opening of sports as we have known them, Fauci did say he could imagine a league like the NBA, which requires near-constant physical contact by players, getting back into action as long as no fans were in the stands.

Here’s how Fauci addressed the issue:

There have been some suggestions that if you want to have a situation where players are going to have to come into contact, like basketball, there are certain things you can do.

It may not work. I’m not saying this is the way to go, but you want to at least consider having players, if they’re going to play, play in front of a TV camera without people in the audience. And then test all the players and make sure they’re negative and keep them in a place where they don’t have contact with anybody on the outside who you don’t know whether they’re positive or negative.

That’s going to be logistically difficult, but there’s at least the possibility of doing that.

NBA’s Silver Seeks Federal Guidance

Silver, who shut down the NBA on a temporary basis on March 11 after Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, has said that he will only bring back the NBA if he has some guidance from the Centers for Disease Control or other agencies that it will be safe.

“We’re paying close attention to what the CDC is telling us on a federal level, and what these various state rules are in place,” Silver told reporters on April 17. “So there’s a lot of data that all have to be melded together to help make these decisions. But I think that that’s part of the uncertainty. I think we’re not even at the point where we can say, ‘If only A, B and C were met, then there’s a clear path.’”

Fauci said he has discussed these types of things with officials in sports leagues, but he declined to say which leagues or which officials.

“I’m always open to try and help in any way I can with Major League Baseball, the NFL,” Fauci said.

Fauci: US ‘Not Ready’ for Sports Return

Fauci did say that the notion of getting back to safely playing spectator sports with spectators actually on hand to watch is still a long way off — and with the need to continue social distancing and mask-wearing, sports played at any point this year with fans on hand might look strange.

Many, including Trump, have been clamoring for sports to come back. It is a common impulse, a normalizing factor in a difficult time. But it’s not necessarily the right impulse.

“There’s a difference between an impulse and what you’re going to do,” Fauci said. “You don’t have to act on every impulse. I would love to be able to have all sports back. But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet. We might be ready, depending upon what the sport is. But right now, we’re not.”

The ability to conduct fast, accurate coronavirus tests could be the determining factor in bringing back sports. Fauci warned, though, that testing alone won’t guarantee anything. There could be other factors that drive whether sports are prepared to return and, above everything else, leagues must consider the health of players and staff members.

In the end, that could require that sports league take a deep breath and do what so many have been resisting: Cancel the season.

“We may not be able to pull this off,” Fauci said. “We’re going to have to see: Is it doable? Do we have the capability of doing it safely? Because safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything. If you can’t guarantee safety, then, unfortunately, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.’”

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