NBA, MLB, NFL union bosses expect returns but none set

Nothing is settled for any of the three biggest North American sports leagues - NBA, MLB and NFL - and certainty on safety issues remains a major concern.

Chase Field - home of MLB franchise the Arizona Diamondbacks

Chase Field - home of MLB franchise the Arizona Diamondbacks   -  Getty Images

NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball players union leaders say it's likely the leagues they deal with will return in some fashion this year after being shut down for the coronavirus pandemic.

But nothing is settled for any of the three biggest North American sports leagues and “certainty” on safety issues remains a major concern for those who will risk their health to play while trying to avoid contracting the virus.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark expressed confidence in a conference call with HBO for interviews airing Thursday.

Asked to rank the chances for leagues to return in 2020 from 1-10 with 10 being certain of a comeback, Clark gave the MLB's chances an 8 1/2 with Roberts saying 6 for the NBA and Smith giving the NFL a 6-7 range.

NBA players need certainty

“It was probably an eight last week,” Roberts said when the session was staged last Thursday. “I've gotten some recent concerns expressed by players now that babies (and) children have been infected, so heightened concerns have come into the conversation.”

Roberts told ESPN in a report on Tuesday that NBA players overwhelmingly want to resume the season but “need some level of certainty” regarding COVID-19 safeguard issues.

“It's time,” Roberts said. “It has been 2 1/2 months of 'What if?' My players need some level of certainty. I think everybody does.”

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The NBA, whose players are conducting individual workouts at team facilities where allowed, is exploring a plan to resume the season in late July at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, although final details are yet to be determined.

Roberts plans to speak with players from every team before the end of May.

“Our guys need to know,” Roberts said. “Certainty will be good. But the players really want to play.”

MLBPA optimistic

The MLBPA's Clark had more confidence than his counterparts but still needed answers to some major issues.

“I remain optimistic,” Clark said. “We don't know everything we want to know and how things are continuing to change, but I do remain optimistic we'll get back out there and play.”

NFLPA eyes other unions

The NFL has announced a full schedule to commence September 10 but all eyes will be on what moves the other leagues and unions make before the NFL is scheduled to launch its season.

Smith said the NFL's chances of playing could hinge on how other sports perform.

“A lot depends on what happens with the other sports. And to say that we aren't looking at what's going to be happening in basketball and baseball... I'd be lying to you if we're not,” he said.

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NBA team owners have planned a conference call on Friday that could reveal more details about coronavirus safeguards and a full return plan.

Roberts said the union would not necessarily need to vote upon any comeback strategy from the league.

“If we thought we needed a vote, we would,” Roberts said. “But our preferred method is talking to people or just having them talk to us. Then if we get a sense of what the sentiment is, then we can move forward. We talk to our players and figure it out.”