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It’s time for sports leagues to again pause for Covid

Sports need to pause for Covid before the outbreaks get worse.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA is experiencing a Covid outbreak right now, and each day it seems to be getting worse. Over the first six weeks of the season, ‘only’ 16 players entered health and safety protocol. In the last two weeks, that number has doubled. There’s just one way this story is going to end if the league keeps up its regular schedule: more players and team employees are going to get sick, and they are going to continue to pass the virus to many of the regular people they come into contact with.

On Tuesday night as the league prepared for Stephen Curry to set the all-time three-point record, two of its biggest stars entered protocol: Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. The positive tests tried their best to overshadow what was otherwise a triumphant night for the league.

There’s one way to fix this problem: the NBA needs to take a break.

At minimum, the league should pause for 10 days right now. It’s actually the perfect time to do it. Play would then resume on Christmas, which is historically the biggest day on the NBA regular season calendar with awesome games from the early afternoon until late in the night. If the league wants to make sure it gets the marquee showcase the fans deserve, it’s for the best to break the season right now.

Can you imagine how disappointed the NBA would be if the ratings tanked for Warriors vs. Suns and Nets vs. Lakers on Christmas because the rosters were compromised by Covid? It would be a major black eye for the league if it happened, and it very well could if the games aren’t paused immediately.

Of course, ratings should be the least of the league’s concerns right now. The main priority should be protecting team staff and the people they touch in their daily lives. There’s only one thing standing in the way: money. Money is the reason the NBA plays 82 regular season games in the first place. The games, the more money there is at the gate, from advertisers, and from TV contracts.

Players carrying the virus isn’t the league’s only safety concern. As rosters have taken a hit because of players in protocol, the healthy players are taking on a significantly greater burden for their teams. Kevin Durant just played 51 minutes against the Raptors on Tuesday night, and if he played any fewer his team would have lost. Lonzo Ball has been playing 40 minutes per night for the Chicago Bulls while 10 of his teammates are currently in protocol. The Bulls had their games on Tuesday and Thursday postponed because of too many positive tests.

The list of players in protocol will keep growing every day unless there’s a break. Since I started typing out this article, two more Lakers players tested positive.

It wasn’t long ago the NBA showed the world how a pro sports league could operate during a global pandemic when it started its bubble in Orlando. The bubble did a terrific job of keeping players safe, and the league was able to finish the season and crown a champion in the Los Angeles Lakers.

Does the NBA need to go back into a fan-less bubble to complete the playoffs uninterrupted again this year? Maybe. Before we get that far, the easiest thing to do is pause the season right now.

About 97 percent of NBA players are vaccinated according to the league’s numbers, and players and team personnel have been encouraged to get their booster shots. As new variants of the virus emerge, it’s clear Covid is still incredibly contagious. While some players are having only mild symptoms, they’re also interacting with plenty of people in their daily lives who aren’t ultra 20- and 30-somethings.

The NBA did not mandate daily testing for players like last year for this season as long as they’re vaccinated. Unfortunately, vaccinated players are still carrying the virus. The safe and effective vaccines help make symptoms much less severe — please get your shots and get boosted, if you haven’t already — but it’s clear they won’t fully eradicate this pandemic as long as people continue to chose not to get their shots.

The NBA isn’t the only league experiencing this problem right now. The NFL has a major outbreak on its hands, too.

The NFL should take a break, too. The league already added an extra game this year to make more money at the expense of player health. Football fans everywhere know how long the offseason can feel. Pushing the schedule back a week or two shouldn’t be a huge deal.

The NBA’s chief objective this season has been to get the league back on its normal schedule. The league had its two shortest offseasons ever in consecutive years with the goal of getting things back on their normal track this season. That sounds great until you consider the pandemic is still raging on. The NBA can’t continue at the same breakneck pace unless it wants more and more players in protocol.

College seasons also shouldn’t hesitate to take a break as positive tests pile up. Yes, some athletes are making money now because of NIL deals, but the thought of student-athletes competing through a global pandemic so their conferences can make more TV money is sickening.

Anyone has a job knows how nice it is to take a break. The NBA and NFL don’t need to go away for an extended period, they just need to take some time off and let people quarantine in the comfort of their own home. One positive Covid test from the Bulls led to 10 positive Covid tests. The Bulls possibly infected the Nets after the teams met last week, and now Harden is in protocol.

There’s one way to stop this. Take a break. At this point, it’s the only solution.