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Butherus: Baseball should be prepared for COVID-19’s worst-case scenario

Like many of former newspaper colleagues, the disappearance of well-paying journalism gigs caused me to pivot into a new career path of public relations. A lot of those skills I learned and honed as a reporter have carried over to my new life. It has also made me appreciate all the hardworking media relations and sports info directors I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years.

Which is why I want to help them out a bit. This next part is for you.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since crossing over from journalism to PR is that you should always be prepared for any situation that might possibly arise that could reflect on the organization. Where I work, I’ve got a communications plan formulated for a whole lot of scenarios like hurricanes or the sudden passing of someone with ties to the organization.

That last part is important as sports leagues across the country get ready to resume play. Statistically speaking, somebody on a pro team’s roster is probably going to die from COVID-19.

Playing Stats

Baseball players reported back to work this week for spring training 2.0. That means thirty teams will have sixty players, including the taxi squad, interacting as part of the game. That’s roughly 2,000 players and coaches walking through the same dugouts and hallways. That means catchers barely an arm’s length away from batters while a potentially older and overweight umpire breathes directly over their shoulder, or first basemen sharing a tiny piece of real estate with a baserunner.
Throw in team travel and interactions inside of a clubhouse — which aren’t exactly bastions of not gross behaviors — and it isn’t hard to see a virus being passed around like it was chlamydia on the 2011 Red Sox team.

MLB players are already testing positive across the league. Conservatively speaking, if even 5% of players and coaches contract the coronavirus, that means 100 of them will end up getting sick. If the virus has even a 1% mortality rate among those infected — which is very possible because a player might have an underlying health issue they may not even know about — that means statistically speaking, at least one player will die this season. That isn’t even taking into account the army of trainers, support staff and team personnel it takes to put on a season. Several big name players like former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price and Sarasota native Ian Desmond have already opted out of their contracts because of safety concerns. The NBA, which decided to try a “bubble zone” approach to player safety is having all sorts of issues and they haven’t even started games yet.

So to help out the undoubtedly overworked media relations staff around the league, here is a template that can be used to draft a press release in the unfortunate scenario of a player dying from COVID-19 this season.

Just fill in the blanks as fitting.

It is with great sadness that we announce the (team name) lost a valued member of the organization with the passing of (player’s name) due to complications from COVID-19. He was (age).

“We as an organization are shocked by this horrible tragedy,” (team owner or other representative name) said. “(Dead player) was a vital part of this organization and (team city) and will be remembered not just as a ballplayer but as a member of the community who gave back through his (list charitable foundations here).

(Player’s name) tested positive for the coronavirus on (XX/XX/2020) and was isolated from the team. Despite the best efforts of team trainers and medical personnel, his condition worsened due to (underlying health issue/recent surgery/previous infection) and was taken to (local hospital name) where he was placed on a ventilator. He passed away on (XX/XX/2020).

He leaves behind (List family members, including his children here).

(Dead player) was a (XX)-round draft pick by the (applicable team name) out of the (University of XXXX/XXXX High School) in (XXXX). (Provide additional boiler plate stats and info here)

The team continues to practice all protocols put in place to contain the virus so that we may continue to bring the American public a televised product for our sponsors and advertisers. To celebrate (dead player’s name)’s sacrifice for the organization, a practice field at the team’s spring training headquarters in (Florida or Arizona city) will be renamed in his honor. (If player was a multiyear All-Star, consider naming one of the walkways outside of the stadium in their honor as well.)

(Dead player’s team)


I hope this template helps save a little time for some team. After all, there’s games to be played. And always know that (dead player’s name) will be missed dearly.

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