Given the extenuating circumstances of the 2020 season, Major League Baseball has created an injured list specifically for players affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Players who are placed on the COVID injured list don’t necessarily have to have tested positive. To be removed, they must test negative twice at least 24 hours apart, show no symptoms for 72 hours, and receive approval from team doctors.
Recently, a Denver Post report revealed that three members of the Rockies, including outfielder Charlie Blackmon, tested positive for COVID-19. The Rockies didn’t announce it; rather, sources of the Post’s Kyle Newman passed word along. Blackmon’s wife, Ashley, expressed frustration over the leaked information on the couple’s Instagram account. SB Nation’s Rockies blog Purple Row has a screenshot of what Ashley wrote.
Naturally, this led to the question: is it ethical for journalists and teams to publicize players’ medical information? Major League Baseball has attempted to address the issue. Yankees GM Brian Cashman joined a conference call with the media on Tuesday. Lindsey Adler of The Athletic was among those to report that Cashman said it is his understanding that teams won’t be able to disclose when a player lands on the COVID-IL. Cashman said, “We may not be able to speak to why and it would be a speculating circumstance.”
It’s a tough issue, and I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. On the one hand, players — like everyone else — deserve privacy with regard to their medical information. On the other hand, the rampant speculation that will follow a non-answer may be more inconvenient and frustrating than simply coming out with the information.
The league also benefits from COVID-IL players being hidden. A large amount of players, or certain star players, landing on the COVID-IL could result in a public outcry to shut down the league amid the pandemic. As negotiations over the last two months showed, the league does not want to start the season only to have to shut it back down in the middle of things. It’s a lot easier to justify powering through a pandemic despite a multitude of sick players if the media and fans aren’t able to identify which and how many players are sick.
If you’re wondering why teams can publicize that a player has a bad elbow, but not that a player has the coronavirus, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman explains why here. Per the Basic Agreement, teams are allowed to disclose information about employment-related injuries. The coronavirus, understandably, wouldn’t seem to qualify as an employment-related injury, thus it is left up to the player to disclose.