Just in case you thought we were out of the woods as it related to the pandemic, COVID-19 made sure to remind everyone just how quickly things can turn sour.
Across the United States’ professional sports scene, the virus made a rampant comeback as 2021 neared its end, with a variety of impacts across a multitude of sports.
On December 13, COVID-19 hit the Chicago Bulls hard as the team dealt with 10 players in the league’s health and safety protocols. NBA teams need to have eight eligible players for a game to go on as scheduled.
As a result, the NBA postponed the team’s December 14 game against the Detroit Pistons and their December 16 battle with the Toronto Raptors.
The madness didn’t stop there, as things continued to get worse just one day later.
Four Brooklyn Nets players entered health and safety protocols on December 14, and the Los Angeles Lakers had to cancel practice due to COVID-19 issues, as well.
Big names like Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo wound up in the league’s COVID-19 protocols by the end of the day, and put the league’s immediate future in doubt.
Elsewhere on December 14, the NFL’s COVID-19 reserve list looked like a grocery list for a family preparing to host 25 people on Thanksgiving. 28 players tested positive, not even including players on practice squads.
The Cleveland Browns had six players on the list in the midst of a short week before a Saturday night clash with the Las Vegas Raiders. A day later, starting quarterback Baker Mayfield tested positive for COVID-19.
Less than 24 hours after a Monday night win against the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals, the Los Angeles Rams had six players show up on the list, as well, including Odell Beckham Jr.
By noon ET on December 15, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said seven teams had entered the NFL’s enhanced COVID-19 protocols.
The outbreaks lined up with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s preseason comments that COVID-19 could actually be worse to deal with in 2021 than 2020, even after a months-long stretch for the NFL without any major issues.
To make matters even worse, the NHL went into panic mode as the league dealt with an outbreak of its own.
As of 11:36 a.m. PT on December 14, 23 players had been added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols list in the span of 36 hours, according to NHL insider Chris Johnston.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ game against the Minnesota Wild was postponed, the Boston Bruins played without one of their top forwards after Brad Marchand entered the league’s protocols, and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that NHL doctors and members of the NHLPA would be “having a call to discuss the latest COVID happenings.”
LeBrun, however, said that a season pause was “not being contemplated at this moment.”
Less than a day later, the Calgary Flames announced that the organization had added 17 people to their COVID-19 list, with seven players, three coaches, and three other staff members entering the league’s protocols.
As things continue to escalate by the hour, sports fans are likely wondering what’s next for three of the United States’ “Big Four” leagues.
Will the NFL have to postpone any games? How will a stacked Christmas Day slate across the NBA and NFL be impacted? Could the NBA and NHL each consider a pause as the holiday season rolls along?
A lot has changed since the sports world shut down back in March of 2020, but the NBA, NFL, and NHL haven’t had to deal with this sort of situation in an era where vaccines are readily available for those willing to receive them.
Gone are the days where the world would shut down as a result of a handful of positive COVID-19 cases, but there’s still plenty to be (rightfully) hesitant about as variants like Omicron spread around the world.
How the rest of the holiday season plays out will undoubtedly be the most important factor for the NBA, NFL, and NHL, but athletes around North America can’t let their guards down if they want their seasons to go uninterrupted as the new year approaches.