Professional leagues limiting locker room access due to coronavirus

The four major professional sports — Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League — issued a joint statement regarding the closing of their locker rooms to non-essential personnel due to concerns over the coronavirus on Monday.

The ban includes members of the media and will go into effect on Tuesday.

The joint statement from the leagues regarding the virus known as COVID-19 read: “After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and 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. These temporary changes will be effective beginning with tomorrow’s games and practices.

“We will continue to closely monitor this situation and take any further steps necessary to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.”

The leagues plan to keep a distance of between 6 and 8 feet between coaches, players and media.

The leagues did not address whether they will continue to hold games in front of crowds in arenas and stadiums where fans are often seated closer to players than 6-8 feet as the virus continues to spread. Other sporting events, in the United States and overseas, have been played in empty arenas and stadiums due to concerns about the virus. In metro-Atlanta, Fulton County will close all its schools and offices Tuesday after a teacher was determined to be infected with coronavirus.

According to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, the confined space and nature of interviews in locker rooms was a factor in the decision.

“It’s a media scrum in the locker rooms, that’s the reason why,” Koonin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You have 30 people leaning over you, and so the idea is not you can’t be next to another human, the idea is to have a more orderly way to do it for our athletes.”

The Braves and Hawks locker rooms were open prior to games Monday night. Under usual circumstances, MLB clubhouses and NBA locker rooms are open for an allotted time before and after games, allowing reporters and players to interact. MLS locker rooms are not open before games but are open after play.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association issued the following statement following the leagues’ announcement.

“The coronavirus poses a serious health threat to everyone. The Professional Basketball Writers Association believes the safety of fans, players, team employees, arena workers and the media who cover the league must be protected. Our thoughts are with all people who already have been adversely impacted by the virus.

“Therefore, we understand the NBA’s decision to temporarily close locker rooms to everyone but players and essential team personnel with the NBA’s promise that once the coronavirus crisis abates, the league will restore full access to the journalists who cover the league.

“Our members remain committed to providing thorough, insightful and fair coverage. Locker room access is essential to good sports journalism. It allows for mutually respectful working relationships to be built, story ideas to form and for organic conversation to occur. It leads to richer stories and more informed reporting.”

The NHL first considered banning non-essential personnel from locker rooms last week. Some teams, including the Wild, Hurricanes, Flames and Rangers, closed their locker rooms Saturday.

MLB plans to continue its spring training slate as scheduled and expects to start the regular season on time. Other events, such as the Masters which will be held next month in Augusta, have issued statements saying they plan to hold events as scheduled but will continue to monitor the situation.