The coronavirus pandemic that began in the early parts of 2020 has affected virtually everyone on the planet. Many celebrities have contracted the coronavirus, and even in a society where “the games must go on,” the sports world was not immune to the virus outbreak.
By the end of March, all four of the major North American professional sports leagues and the NCAA, all top-flight domestic soccer competitions and European tournaments, and the Australian Football League, among others, stopped on figurative dimes. Ahead of Easter weekend, Dana White’s plans for the UFC 249 show fell through after ESPN pulled the plug.
In the United States, the first domino fell on March 11 when it was reported that an active NBA player and All-Star had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Before the start of the game he would have played in, with the potential to infect over a dozen participants, the contest was called off and the NBA indefinitely suspended all play.
Following that wild Wednesday evening, multiple current and former athletes, as well as famous sports figures such as New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and beloved ESPN analyst Doris Burke, fought battles against COVID-19.
RUDY GOBERT WAS THE NBA’S FIRST KNOWN CASE
As reported by CNN, Utah Jazz center and one-time All-Star Rudy Gobert decided to poke the bear on March 9 when he touched microphones and other devices following a press obligation.
Those few seconds that elicited chuckles from reporters became no laughing matter nearly 48 hours later, when it was learned that one Jazz player, eventually identified as Gobert, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Before the tipoff of a game between Utah and the Oklahoma City Thunder, officials determined that the contest would be abandoned and postponed. That decision started the sequence of events that led to the Association suspending play.
The following day, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year took to Instagram to apologize for his miscue that went viral across social media platforms.
“The first and most important thing is I would like to publicly apologize to the people that I may have endangered,” Gobert wrote. “At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse. I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously.”
He later explained on Twitter that he lost his senses of smell and taste while recovering from the virus.
DONOVAN MITCHELL WAS THE SECOND UTAH JAZZ PLAYER TO TEST POSITIVE
One of the scariest things about the strains of coronavirus that has shut cities, states, and countries down is that it’s extremely contagious.
That’s true even for professional athletes who are in better physical condition that the majority of we common folk walking the earth. Any lingering doubts about that were erased when Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell, a teammate of Rudy Gobert, tested positive for the coronavirus.
As reported by The Athletic, Gobert and Mitchell routinely shared spaces in the 48 hours leading up to Utah’s eventually-postponed game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While club officials tried to explain to Mitchell that there is no way of knowing who, among the two of them, was the NBA’s “patient zero,” Mitchell made his displeasure regarding the situation known during a March 16 edition of “Good Morning America.”
The same Athletic piece published on April 10 claimed that the relationship between Mitchell and Gobert wasn’t “salvageable” as of that time. On March 27, the NBA announced both Gobert and Mitchell had recovered from the coronavirus.
DANIELE RUGANI WAS THE FIRST SERIE A PLAYER TO TEST POSITIVE
Italy was the European nation hardest hit by the coronavirus from January 1 through mid-April. According to Al Jazeera, over 18,800 deaths in the country had been linked to the virus outbreak during that time. Because of safety concerns and other issues, all Italian sport, including the Serie A, was indefinitely halted on March 9.
Per the Associated Press, Serie A giants Juventus announced that club and Italian national team defender Daniele Rugani tested positive for the new coronavirus on March 11.
Five days after that announcement, Rugani spoke to Juventus TV about his experience. From Football Italia: “I’m fine, I’ve been pretty good.
I haven’t had the symptoms you read about in the news;” Rugani told the channel. “I was lucky despite it being a good hit because I was the first in our environment to get it. I hope it will serve to raise awareness.”
As explained by Sky Sports, Rugani also addressed the matter via Twitter. “I urge everyone to respect the rules,” he wrote, “because this virus makes no distinctions! Let’s do it for ourselves, for our loved ones and for those around us.”
JIM EDMONDS HAD A ROUGH SPRING
Known for making some of the most spectacular baseball catches of his generation; outfielder Jim Edmonds was a four-time All-Star who won eight Gold Glove awards during an MLB career that lasted nearly two decades. The one-time Silver Slugger led his leagues in assists among center fielders four times; and he was 27th on the career list in that category as of the end of the 2019 regular season.
For all his greatness, Edmonds had one lousy spring in 2020.
Per Entertainment Tonight, Edmonds announced through social media on April 1 that he had tested positive; for both COVID-19 and pneumonia while in a hospital. As mentioned by Page Six, Edmonds quarantined himself from family members as soon as he noticed COVID-19 symptoms; but before any test confirmed a diagnosis.
That was only the beginning of a crummy April for Edmonds. Page Six also noted that Edmonds required 12 stitches in his forehead later in the month after he lost a “fight with the glass shower door.”
“Hasn’t been a great 2020 yet!” Edmonds captioned one of his Instagram photos of the wound.
KEVIN DURANT WAS THE FIRST NBA FINALS MVP CONFIRMED TO HAVE COVID-19
The Brooklyn Nets acquired superstar and 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant; knowing he wouldn’t play for the club during the 2019-20 season; as he recovered from the ruptured Achilles he suffered during the 2019 Finals.
Durant worked out and spent time with teammates, though; so it wasn’t too surprising that he was one of the four Nets players who tested positive for the new coronavirus in the middle of March 2020.
He told Shams Charania of The Athletic that he wasn’t feeling ill. “Everyone be careful; take care of yourself and quarantine,” KD said to Charania. “We’re going to get through this.”
Those warnings didn’t prevent pop superstar Rihanna from taking a shot at Durant; during one of DJ Spade’s Instagram Live sessions in late March. According to the New York Post, Rihanna joked that she needed to wear a mask; because KD was also in the chat. She also added that she hoped Durant would get better soon.
By April 1, Durant and the other three Brooklyn players had recovered; and were no longer showing symptoms of the virus.
MARCUS SMART DONATED PLASMA ONCE HE RECOVERED FROM COVID-19
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart was in the middle of a breakout season when the NBA stopped play on March 11. Smart was averaging career bests in points per game and minutes per game; and he had already converted more three-point attempts than during any prior full campaign.
On March 19, Smart announced via Twitter that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus from a sample collected five days prior. “I’m OK, I feel fine,” he explained. “I don’t feel any of the symptoms.” He also stressed for everybody to practice social distancing during the pandemic.
As noted by NBC Sports Boston, Smart discussed that week of his life with CNN on March 20. “I found out yesterday evening sometime. And for me, it was just like a surprise; you know, because like I said, I feel fine. I haven’t had any symptoms,” he explained.
On the last day of March, Smart told Shams Charania of The Athletic that he planned to donate his plasma to the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. Antibodies from healthy individuals could help some sick patients recover from the coronavirus.
CHRISTIAN WOOD FELL ILL AFTER HE PLAYED AGAINST THE UTAH JAZZ
Mere weeks before people around the world first grasped the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic; athletes across multiple professional and collegiate sports would’ve been labeled courageous; and even heroic for playing in a game while battling flu-like symptoms.
In fact, Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” during the 1997 NBA Finals is widely revered as one of the greatest performances in league history.
One can’t help but wonder if players will be asked to stay away from teams if they feel sick for the foreseeable future. As documented by NBC Sports, Detroit Pistons forward Christian Wood reported to the club on the morning of March 11 feeling under the weather. Not only did he play that evening. He scored a team-high 32 points in a double-digit loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
A few days later, Wood tested positive for COVID-19. According to CBS Sports, he was the first NBA player not on the Utah Jazz confirmed to have the virus. He was also the first league player to recover from it. While it will likely never be confirmed how he fell ill because of the nature of the virus, it’s worth noting that the Pistons faced the Jazz on March 7 before Detroit traveled for away games against the New York Knicks and the Sixers.
PATRICK MCENROE WORKED ON A PODCAST WHILE SICK WITH COVID-19
Patrick McEnroe, the younger brother of John McEnroe, won 16 tennis titles as a doubles competitor during his storied career. Probably his most famous moment as a singles competitor occurred in 1991; he and Jimmy Connors met at the U.S. Open. McEnroe notched victories in the opening two sets; but Connors rallied back to win the match after over four hours of back-and-forth play.
On March 31, McEnroe announced via social media that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Per the New York Post, he said at that time that he was already feeling fine; and that his symptoms had passed. “Thoughts and prayers to all those people who are struggling with this,” he added.
In April, McEnroe provided multiple updates of his improving condition. While speaking with Sky Sports’ Raz Mirza, McEnroe explained that he had a fever but not any serious or alarming symptoms and that it took him only 24 hours to get his test results. He also joked that he used his free time to work on his podcast.
MIKEL ARTETA WAS THE FIRST PREMIER LEAGUE MANAGER TO TEST POSITIVE FOR COVID-19
Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta joined Everton on a loan move from Real Sociedad in January 2005; and he played for the Premier League outfit through August 2011 before he completed a transfer to Arsenal. From there, Arteta featured for the Gunners through May 2016, when he made his last appearance as a player.
The subsequent July, he joined Manchester City as a coach; and Arsenal later appointed him first-team manager in December 2019.
Less than four months later, Arsenal announced through an official club statement that the boss had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Once he began feeling better in March, he spoke with Spanish television channel La Sexta (h/t talkSPORT) regarding a brief illness.
The Arsenal manager explained that he only felt sick for a handful of days; and Arteta also hinted that contact with Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis, who had previously tested positive, may have led to him coming down with the virus.
By April 10, Arteta informed the BBC’s Dan Walker that he was fully recovered from the illness. “It took five to seven days to get through the virus; and then I passed it on to my Mrs. and another person that lives with us; but we are all fine, we are all gone through it and we are absolutely fine,” he said.
CHELSEA CONFIRMED CALLUM HUDSON-ODOI HAD TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19 AND RECOVERED
Unlike other teams, Chelsea were forthright in disclosing which player was their first to test for the coronavirus. On March 12, the club announced that teenage winger Callum Hudson-Odoi was battling the illness.
Per Chelsea, Hudson-Odoi appeared to be dealing with only a mild cold; when the team decided to test him as a precaution. As explained by ESPN, he was the first Premier Leauge player confirmed to have COVID-19.
On March 26, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard provided an update on his player’s condition. “I’ve spoken to Callum, and it’s great that he’s fully recovered,” Lampard said. “I spoke to him throughout that first week when he first got the illness; and it was a strange time. Thankfully he didn’t suffer too much; and we are happy he’s come through this.”
After Hudson-Odoi recovered, he passed some time by challenging England teammate Jadon Sancho to an online game of FIFA. According to Goal.com, Hudson-Odoi became the youngest England national team debutant since Wayne Rooney in 2003; he made his first appearance for the Three Lions in early 2019.
TONY BOSELLI AND HIS SON TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19
Some fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars may lament that the club drafted offensive lineman Tony Boselli with the second pick of the 1995 NFL Draft instead of Hall of Famers such as Warren Sapp, Ty Law, Derrick Brooks, or Curtis Martin.
Don’t let that fool anyone about how popular Boselli was during his prime with the company. As noted by Jacksonville.com; Florida McDonald’s restaurants once served a “Boselli Burger” that featured three patties.
In the spring of 2020, the new coronavirus gave the Boselli family multiple scares. As reported by ESPN, the patriarch of the Boselli household spent nearly half of a five-day stint in a hospital in an ICU; due to complications caused by the virus. “I don’t know if I ever was like I thought I was going to die; but I remember having the conversation with myself: I don’t want to die here,” he recounted.
Meanwhile, Florida State offensive lineman Andrew Boselli, the son of the former Jaguar, also came down with COVID-19.
Per the New York Post, Andrew’s case was milder; but he wouldn’t recommend anybody taking a chance of catching the disease. “I promise you, even if you’re young and healthy, you do not want this virus,” he said.
SYDNEY WIESE FIRST FELL ILL IN SPAIN
It’s not rare for women’s professional sports stars, such as basketball and soccer players, to play in multiple nations during any given year. That was the case with Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese in the first few months of 2020. With the WNBA season scheduled to get underway on May 15, Wiese was featuring for Spanish side Cadi La Seu in March before she returned to the U.S. around March 13.
According to Cronkite News, it was at that same time when Wiese, who had been dealing with a cold; off and on since February, noticed that she had lost her normal taste and smell. She tested positive for the coronavirus later in March; but, fortunately, she had a relatively mild case compared to those who fell seriously ill.
“Everybody is being called to sacrifice their own routine and rhythm;” Wiese said about acting cautiously in attempts to prevent others from catching the virus. “And not just athletes, I mean everybody across the world is having to uproot what they’re used to. Embrace this new normal. The priority right now is the health and safety of the people and of one another. And so we just gotta continue to make the most of the stillness; the new routine and see what we can get out of it.”
SOME PLAYERS CHOSE TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS ABOUT COVID-19
Due to privacy laws, franchises and leagues are not able to disclose personal information about patients; including data regarding positive or negative COVID-19 tests, without permission. Because of this, multiple individuals in sports who came down with the new coronavirus and then recovered have remained anonymous.
From CBS Sports, several NHL players tested positive after the season was put on hold; with the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators both being impacted. Minor league teams associated with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees systems had players test positive; as did multiple members of the Philadelphia 76ers non-playing staff.
One player for the Seattle Dragons of the XFL was among those who tested positive; and the virus caused the permanent cancellation of that league’s season. On April 10, the XFL suspended all operations and laid off nearly all of its staff. ESPN reported that the competition relaunched by WWE CEO and president Vince McMahon in 2020 had no plans to return the following year as of that time.
On April 1, the MLS’s Philadelphia Union announced one of their players tested positive for COVID-19.