On Tuesday, four professional sports leagues will impose new policies intended to protect players and staff from potential exposure to coronavirus, including keeping members of the media out of locker rooms and clubhouses and even specifying proper distances from players and coaches in interview situations.
“The NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer are closing access to locker rooms and clubhouses to all nonessential personnel, including media, in response to the coronavirus crisis, the leagues announced in a joint statement Monday night,” The Associated Press reports.
“After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting,” the joint statement reads.
“These temporary changes will be effective beginning with [Tuesday’s] games and practices,” the statement continues. “We will continue to closely monitor this situation and take any further steps necessary to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.”
The NBA said in a conference call Monday night that it would continue to host interviews with players but in different setting, and that league officials will require that reporters remain 6-to-8 feet away from the interviewees.
While the new policies will be implemented by all the leagues starting Tuesday, AP notes that the NHL actually started imposing the nonessential persons locker room ban over the weekend.
The announcement of the new policies follow reports that the NBA was considering taking far more drastic measures, including even playing games without any fans in arenas. The league’s most high-profile figure, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, promptly went on the record last week to declare that he “ain’t playing” if that should be the case.
“We play games without the fans? Nah, it’s impossible,” James said Friday. “I ain’t playing. I ain’t got the fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates. I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena and there are no fans in there, I ain’t playing. They can do what they want to do.”
As noted by the Associated Press, while no NBA games have been played without fans, some NCAA Division III men’s basketball games have, as has at least one college hockey playoff series in Troy, New York.
Among those who have responded to the new media policies is the Pro Basketball Writers Association, which said in a statement that it members “understand the NBA’s decision to temporarily close locker rooms to everyone but players and essential team personnel with the NBA’s promise that once the coronavirus crisis abates, the league will restore full access to the journalists who cover the league.”