FORT MYERS, Fla. — Major League Baseball, along with the NBA, NHL and MLS, will close their clubhouses to the media in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In an unprecedented joint statement from all four leagues — the NFL can wait until August, when its preseason begins — the leagues decided to act in an attempt to minimize person-to-person contact between potential carriers of the COVID-19 contagion, which is sweeping across North America and most of the globe.
The shutdown, effective for both games and practices, is temporary, but it will begin Tuesday.
"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,” the statement said. "Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting. We will continue to closely monitor this situation and take any further steps necessary to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.”
MLB held a conference call with all 30 owners Monday at 5 p.m.
In its own statement, MLB said it is acting in consultation with public health and infectious disease specialists, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, to guide its decision-making as Opening Day is 2½ weeks away.
“While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled,” said MLB.
"On a temporary basis, effective on Tuesday, only players and essential personnel may enter locker rooms and clubhouses at MLB facilities. In a joint step with other professional sports leagues, we are requiring that Clubs relocate media availabilities to another area in their facilities. Clubs will be expected to provide best efforts in facilitating usual media coverage and access to uniformed personnel and team officials in these alternate settings. Access for and coverage by the BBWAA and all media are vital to our game and we hope to resume normal operations as quickly as possible. We appreciate the media’s cooperation with this temporary step, which is being taken out of an abundance of caution for the best interests of all.”
The Red Sox open their season March 26 in Toronto.
ESPN reported that if local authorities decided it is not safe for a baseball game to be played because of coronavirus concerns, MLB would consider moving the game to another area in the country deemed safer.
Currently, media are allowed into major league clubhouses 3½ hours before the first pitch for at least an hour. Media access is part of the collective bargaining agreement reached between MLB and the players association.
The Red Sox advised the media about the change in plans, with all interviews to take place in the media room or on the “media bench” outside the clubhouse. The club added, “Please note that during all large group availabilities, a minimum distance of six feet needs to be kept between the player/coach speaking to reporters.”
The Baseball Writers’ Association acknowledged the “paramount" importance of health but also expressed its “disappointment” with the decision for no more clubhouse access.
“The decision by Major League Baseball to join other leagues in closing the clubhouse to media is disappointing, even as a ‘temporary step,’ and we desire to work with MLB and MLBPA to discuss solutions beneficial to the players and media alike, until we can return to the access that allows us to chronicle the game and humanize its performers like no other sport.”
Earlier Monday, representatives from the Associated Press Sports Editors and the top executives of writers’ associations from pro football, baseball, soccer, and hockey co-signed a letter expressing their understanding that precautions might be warranted, but that any changes would be temporary.
"We the entities covering pro and college sports in North America are concerned with the developing international outbreak of coronavirus and the need to contain it,” the statement said. "We understand precautions may be necessary in the name of public health. We are intent on working with the leagues, teams, and schools we cover to maintain safe work environments. We also must ensure the locker room access — which we have negotiated over decades — to players, coaches and staff is not unnecessarily limited in either the short or long term. We look forward to open communication with the leagues as, together, we deal with this serious health matter.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.