Joe Biden said Tuesday that attempts by MLB and the NFL to stage 2020 seasons without having their players “sequestered in one place,” as the NBA is doing, will likely fail.


Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus in Wilmington, Del., in March. AP file photo

Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was taking questions after delivering a speech in Wilmington, Del., on his plans to “deal with systemic racism and advance racial equity in our economy.”

Asked if sports leagues such as MLB and the NFL should continue trying to launch their seasons amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, he replied, “It seems to me that it’s probably not going to be able to happen, based on what the leagues themselves are saying.

“I mean, you have the Marlins saying, ‘We can’t do it.’ So I think they should just follow the science.”

An outbreak of the coronavirus among the Miami Marlins has sidelined the entire team less than a week after MLB began its pandemic-delayed, 60-game season. Sixteen Marlins players and at least two coaches have recently tested positive, causing MLB to postpone Miami’s games through Sunday.

Because the Marlins had just been in Philadelphia to play the Phillies, a series between that team and the New York Yankees was also postponed; in a schedule change, the Yankees will instead travel to Baltimore to play the Orioles on Wednesday and Thursday. The Washington Nationals were scheduled to play the Marlins in Miami this weekend but now won’t make that trip, much to the relief of the Nats and Manager Dave Martinez, who had major concerns about traveling to a coronavirus hotspot.

“It had nothing to do with the Miami Marlins. It was all about Miami and the state of Florida, this pandemic,” Martinez said Tuesday. “They didn’t feel safe.”

In a manner befitting a sport that lends itself to statistical analysis, MLB sought to provide reassurance that its season was not, in fact, crumbling quickly at the hands of a virus that has infected at least 4.3 million Americans and killed at least 146,000.

“In over 6,400 tests conducted since Friday, July 24th, there have been no new positives of on-field personnel from any of the other 29 Clubs (apart from the Marlins),” MLB said. “This outcome is in line with encouraging overall data since the start of testing. Through last Thursday, July 23rd, 99 of the 32,640 samples — 0.3% — had been positive. … We will continue to bolster our protocols and make any necessary adjustments.”

The NFL won’t try to play any games until September, but with training camps opening — signaling the end of the league’s virtual offseason — a number of players decided to opt out of this season. Thus far, that group includes six members of the New England Patriots, as well as 16 players on other teams.

“Me and my fiancee are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” said decorated Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, whose son was born this month.

In remarks Tuesday that were highly critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, Biden said, “When you have a lot of football players turning down eight, 10 million bucks a year, saying, ‘I’m not going to take the risk of playing,’ you’re not listening.”

Biden had some praise for the approach taken by the NBA, which is having its participating teams and other personnel live temporarily on a Disney-owned property near Orlando while it tries to finish a 2019-20 season that was halted in March. That league is doing the ″one thing that seems to work a little bit,” he said.

The key, according to the former vice president, is that “no one is traveling, they’re all sequestered in one place.”

“I’m not going to opine on every sport, but it seems to me that when you have to travel, when you have to be in hotel rooms in places that are different from where you’ve been the day before, when you are in a position where you are going into an area where there is a high concentration of the spread of COVID, all those things add up to a real problem,” said Biden. “And we’re not going to really overcome that until we follow science and get a vaccine.”

Following varying degrees of shutdowns in March in many sectors of the economy, President Trump has frequently pushed for businesses to reopen, including sports leagues. During a coronavirus briefing Thursday in which he said he would throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Yankees game in August — before later claiming that his efforts to contain the pandemic would not allow for a trip to New York — Trump said that MLB was “setting an example by playing at empty stadiums, and so are other sports.”

“The key is to get back to normal,” Trump said Thursday. “Nobody wants to see this, but I think it’s really good that baseball is opening, it looks like football is opening, it looks like sports are opening — it’s a tremendous thing, psychologically, for our country.”

The White House’s top infectious-disease official, however, warned Tuesday that the Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak could put MLB’s season in danger.

“I don’t believe they need to stop,” said Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “but we just need to follow this and see what happens with other teams on a day-by-day basis.”

The NFL’s season could have a more pressing problem on its hands if the annual cold and flu season worsens the pandemic, Fauci declared in June. “Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” he said then.

Fauci returned to that thought Tuesday, telling ABC, “It might be that they have to go in a bubble, but I think they’re conscientious enough, and want to protect their players and protect the personnel, that they will do the right thing.”

The NHL is following the NBA’s model, except that it is putting its players into two bubbles, one in Toronto and the other in Edmonton. The NHL considered for its plan cities such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, but decided to move entirely into Canada as coronavirus cases began to rise sharply in the United States.

Going the other way have been MLB’s Blue Jays, who were barred from playing at home in Toronto because the Canadian government did not want them or their opponents traveling in and out of the U.S. The Blue Jays will, eventually, host teams this year in Buffalo.

Biden pointed to the European Union’s recent ban on travelers from the U.S. in reiterating his accusation that under Trump, “we’re not following the science, and there’s very little transparency on what’s going on.”

He added that even when a vaccine arrives to help athletes and everyone else, some Americans — and not just “the usual anti-vaccine crowd,” Biden said — will still question whether it is safe and effective, because “people are losing faith in what the president says.”

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