President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday he discussed how professional sports leagues might resume play at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic with various commissioners and team owners during a Wednesday conference call.
"Many of them are going to be starting without the fans," he said, per Chris Johnston of Hockey Night in Canada. "... It'll go that way and then the fans will start coming in—maybe they'll be separated by two seats—and then ultimately we want to have packed arenas."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the leading voices in Trump's White House Coronavirus Task Force, also spoke about the possibility of sports events eventually resuming:
ABC News @ABC
“I think we’ll be able to have sports events in that phase where you actually have participants there. I’m not sure you’re going to be able to do that uniformly and evenly,” Dr. Fauci tells @jonkarl when asked what phase 3 of reopening could look like. https://t.co/SJgZ5pLFlI https://t.co/SzZHhnPoWR
On Wednesday, Trump met with key leaders in professional sports, including league commissioners Adam Silver (NBA), Rob Manfred (MLB), Don Garber (MLS), Gary Bettman (NHL) and Roger Goodell (NFL), alongside team owners like Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks) and Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys).
As of now, leagues like the NBA and NHL have put their season on hiatus, while the MLB postponed the start of its season because of the coronavirus.
Per Sam Amick of The Athletic, "in making the rounds with [owners, players and agents], I quickly found it apparent that there's a shared goal of finding a way of finishing this campaign and a widespread sense that it's still feasible. Somehow. Some way. Without fans being present at games, of course."
Amick added that there is "widespread optimism" that the NBA might be able to resume its season at some point.
The NFL, meanwhile, is still planning to begin in early September and play a full season, though contingency plans are being considered, per Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab. And Major League Baseball is reportedly considering plans that would include all teams playing in one state like Arizona and isolating between games, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
However, some athletes have reasonable concerns about the leagues restarting and the contingency plans being suggested:
Jamison Hensley @jamisonhensley
Orlando Brown Jr. did not say he was "a little scared" to resume playing football. He was asked if he had concerns about there not being a season and "how scary is that?" Brown: “I am a little scared. It’s a serious situation. You can only control what you can control."
Jamison Hensley @jamisonhensley
In regards to this pandemic, Orlando Brown Jr. on what it would take for him to be comfortable to play: "I don't think the NFL and the Ravens organization are going to put us in a bad position. If things aren't ready, they're not ready. I don't think it's going to be forced."
So much remains up in the air. One thing seems like a safe bet, however—if sports do return, they will almost assuredly do so without fans in the stands, at least initially.