(CNN)The pandemic forced nearly every sports league in the world to cancel or postpone games. But now, athletes are considering a return to the game. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to legendary sports commentator Bob Costas about how the forthcoming seasons will work and whether they're worth the risk.
Bob Costas on the Future of Sports: Dr. Sanjay Gupta's coronavirus podcast for June 26
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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: For fans like me, sports have never been just about the game. It's about the whole experience. The electricity of the crowds. The witnessing of athletes perform superhuman feats. All the little traditions — the hot dogs, the wave, the seventh inning stretch. It's about the cheering, the energy, the bonding, the socialization and the hope beyond hope that this year will be the year that your team finally wins.
But for the past few months ... all of that has been gone.
The pandemic forced nearly every sports league in the world to cancel or postpone games. Even the 2020 Olympics have been pushed back a year, at least.
But now some sports are starting to return. NASCAR and golf have resumed, without fans. So have some European soccer leagues.
And now all the major American sports leagues are making plans to come back as well. I'm talking about baseball, basketball, hockey and, yes, even football. They're all hoping to bring players together in person as soon as next month. What happens with these sports leagues will likely inform how we all progress together as a society.
While the leagues have spent months drafting protocols for shortened seasons, frequent testing and physical distancing in facilities, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how these sports can actually move forward, and also what will happen if lots of players start to test positive for the virus.
Recently tennis star Novak Djokovic tested positive after playing in a tournament that he organized in Croatia and Serbia. He subsequently apologized for that decision. And players and staff for multiple Major League Baseball teams have now also tested positive.
So what's going to happen here? How's this going to work? What's it going to take to pull off the feat of getting thousands of players back into stadiums? And is it all worth the risk? We are in the middle of a pandemic.
Today I'm going to talk to broadcasting legend Bob Costas about what the future holds for sports.
I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. And this is "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction."
Bob Costas has been a legend of sports television for nearly 50 years. He's been the prime-time host of 11 Olympic games, countless baseball, basketball and football games — and even the Kentucky Derby.
So I wanted to know how he thinks about all of this. What are the risks and rewards of getting sports up and running again?
Bob Costas, MLB sportscaster: Well, the economic reason is obvious. The leagues and by extension the players can salvage some revenue, especially network television revenue, if they're able to stage games even without fans. So that's — we can't be naive. That is a primary motivation.
But there's also the notion that especially in tough times, that sports provide a diversion and can be a source of unity and a small sense that things are getting back to normal, although in this case, I doubt it. Because watching these games will be a reminder of how abnormal they are with no fans in the stands and with shortened or truncated seasons, and all the rest. So there is a, there is an emotional reason, and then there's an economic reason because there's still a lot of money still out there, which they cannot collect unless they play some semblance of a season, no matter what sport we're talking about.
Gupta: Yeah, I think you're right. I mean, we can't, we shouldn't be naive about that particular driver in all this. Let me talk about football a little bit because the idea of true physical distancing and playing football, just they, they don't go hand in hand.
I talked to Dr. Anthony Fauci adirector of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] about this, and he brought up this model that you have to essentially put the community of these teams in a bubble. They have to be tested often. They have to have very little interaction with the community, which may mean even little interaction with their own families. They essentially go into the bubble for the season and then they come back out. What about football? Do you think it's going to happen?
Costas: Well, I think football is especially problematic because of the size of the rosters. The very nature of the game, this close physical contact by almost everybody on the field, on almost every play and then the experts say we ought to be wary of a surge in the fall and in the wintertime. Well, that's when football is played.
The other side of the coin is that football, if they were able to play, is the sport that could come closest to recouping a gigantic portion of their expected revenue, because although obviously they make a great deal of money at the gate, the largest percentage of their revenues comes from network television.
And people are so obsessed with football and the time of the year and the fact that their team plays only once a week and gambling and fantasy and everything else. I think they would watch football in a larger percentage of the normal viewership than the other sports are likely to get. If, if, if they are able to play, and there's so many needles to thread in that equation that, you know, good luck.
Gupta: They're talking about being able to have the players wear masks via their helmet, physically distancing on the sideline, single-use rehydration systems, things like that. When you start to think about these various strategies, is there a path forward, do you think, for football?
Costas: So many things could go wrong. These are young men in a passionate sport. Are they going to observe all these things? Are they going to instinctively when they come to the sideline want to get close to a teammate or shout some encouragement? It just seems so difficult to be mindful 100% and have no slip-ups with so many variables involved.
Gupta: Yeah, no, I agree. And you take it even a step further. What if somebody says, you know what, I don't want to do this? I know that you've created a path forward, but I still, my own personal interpretation of risk is different than what the league has set out here. I don't want to do this. How, how would that work?
Costas: Yeah, you know, for example, in baseball, there are a few players, Jon Lester, the Cubs, Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers, are just two examples who have preexisting conditions that you as a medical expert would say this ought to exempt them, but others will say, "Well, you know, my wife has a preexisting condition," or some will say this: "I'm already established. I have a long-term contract. I don't want to play. I'm not citing a preexisting condition. I'm just citing overall concern. And it's not worth it to me at this point in my career." And the leagues have already indicated that they would honor that.
Gupta: Do you, do you draw a distinction when we talk about professional versus college athletes?
Costas: Oh, yeah, Sanjay. I draw a very big distinction. First of all, these athletes are unpaid. They have no union to protect them. They are at much greater risk than professional athletes would be. Plus, we have to be aware that there is legitimate concern that in many cases, especially with the big-time sports of college football and men's basketball, that it's a sham, that it isn't really a student athlete situation. Well, if some of these conferences and colleges decide that they're going to play, even if there are no students on campus, then what's the point of this?
If everyone is taking virtual classes, what's the point of a basketball game on campus or a football game on campus without students without at least the pretense that this is some sort of college experience? Absent that, if you're going to play, then you're absolutely saying it's completely transparent: We're playing for television dollars. That's what we're doing. And I don't think that that's the best possible look.
Gupta: A tough sell. Basketball. The NBA has proposed a plan to resume the season with teams ess