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MLB announces restrictions in clubhouse access due to coronavirus concern

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(Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Hardly an hour goes by these days without some institution, city, state or nation announcing the cancelation of events, the shutdown of schools or the restriction of access in the wake of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.

Scientific minds are doing the best they can to assess the possibility of a potential epidemic and are advising their communities about how best to stay safe.

Remember, the prime minister of Italy announced on Monday the total lockdown of the nation in the effort to contain the spreading of the disease. And in Japan, the start of their Major League Baseball season as been delayed for at least one month.

These are serious times.

While this has been going on around them, the commissioners and owners of the major professional sports leagues in North America have been holding their own conversations with the Center of Disease Control in hopes of developing strategies specific to their own businesses.

There has even been talk of holding events without spectators if things get worse before they get better.

Well, on Monday, the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS announced their first major initiative. They have suspended access to their locker rooms and clubhouses to all nonessential personnel. This includes the media who cover their leagues.

In a joint statement, the leagues offered an explanation:

“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 new rules, which are expected to be temporary, began on Tuesday, although the NHL actually began restricting media access over the weekend.

While this represents a serious logistical challenge for the media, who depend on one-on-one interaction with players and front office personnel for their stories, the move makes perfect sense.

Although they are vastly improved over the last decade, pro locker rooms are relatively small spaces and after games, especially the larger events like playoff or championship games, dozens of media members can pile inside.

Reporters are often cramped together in front of players lockers, no more than inches away from each other and just a foot or two away from the subject they are interviewing. You can understand why health officials were concerned about the possibility of people infecting each other in such tight quarters.

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(Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The professional writers associations for NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS, as well as the Pro Football Writers of America and the Associated Press Sports Editors, issued a joint statement.

“We are concerned with the developing international outbreak of coronavirus and the need to contain it. 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,” they said. “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.”

The media will still be allowed to do its job. But now, interviews will be held outside the locker rooms in other settings, with an emphasis on maintaining a gap of 6-to-8 feet between reporters and subjects.

“I don’t know that we have our arms around how significant of an issue this is at this point, so if the league is recommending or their policy is we want to take step-by-step-type precautions, then we want to go along with that,” Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told The Associated Press.

Without the necessary numbers of testing kits, health officials are assuming the worst – that more people are infected with the virus than anyone realizes. Considered potentially deadly to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, the number or acknowledged cases in the USA was nearing 1,000 by Tuesday with a number of deaths, mostly in Washington state.

A number of pro athletes, led by LeBron James, have said they would not play in games that ban spectators. But NBA teams are already making adjustments to their normal routines.

The Miami Heat threw a party in Miami Beach on Monday. The team’s three NBA championship trophies stood near the entrance, guarded by someone with hand sanitizer.

“Until the league says something else, we are business as usual, with a tremendous amount of caution and prevention to make sure everybody’s safe,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “But also educating them that they’ve got to do the same thing.”

The banning of spectators could impact the NHL before any other league. On Monday, California’s Santa Clara County banned gatherings of at least 1,000 people through the end of March. That is the home of the San Jose Sharks. MLB officials had a conference call with its franchises on Monday.

“We are regularly conveying the guidance from these experts to clubs, players, and staff regarding prevention, good hygiene practices and the latest recommendations related to travel,” MLB said in a statement. “We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary. While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.”