The NBA Courts Liability With Re-Opening of Facilities?

There are more than 1 million cases of coronavirus that have been reported in the United States, and despite the death toll topping 60,000, some states and the NBA are considering opening up for business. Originally the NBA was considering opening practice facilities by May 1st, in those states that have begun to relax their stay-at-home orders.The move to open up practice facilities came after Georgia decided to loosen their stay-at-home orders amid the pandemic. Despite Georgia’s advancement to bring back their economy, the Atlanta Hawks did not open their facility with concerns that reopening may cause a second wave of coronavirus. The NBA shared the Hawk’s point of view and due to safety concerns the NBA decided to alter their plans and push back the date to at least May 8, if not later.

The NBA has also set forth guidelines if they do decide to open some facilities. These guidelines direct how the workouts at the NBA’s facilities will be allowed to be conducted, including: no more than four players would be permitted at a facility at any one time; no head or assistant coaches can participate, group activities remain prohibited, including practices; and players remain prohibited from using non-team facilities. It is also possible that the NBA will have players wear face masks while at the facility and at all times except during physical activity. Further, the NBA will limit the staffers that can be in the facility and mandate that everyone remain at least 12 feet away from one another. The May 8th opening date would only apply to those areas that have eased their stay-at-home guidelines. This may create an unfair advantage to any players who are located in a heavy hit area or are lacking the proper equipment to workout.

The reigning NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, stated that he didn’t even have access to a basketball hoop. Although Giannis is able to lifts weights, run on a treadmill, he is still not able to play any basketball and he isn’t alone. Khris Middleton, an All-Star for the Bucks, also admitted that he doesn’t have any access to a basketball hoop either. Middleton went on to say that, “it’s really no basketball for me. Basically, like Giannis said, it’s treadmill, the jump rope, some weights, and that’s it.” Thus, reopening practice facilities in only certain locations could create an unfair advantage among the players and the league. The NBA has stated that they were committed to create a process that would help those teams that could not use their facilities because their perspective states were closed. Regardless, the NBA may need to have a second training camp, in order to allow the players to restore their conditioning, and get some repetitions on a basket.

Image Credit: AP/Photo Nick Wass

But for now there have been no determinations made as to whether the NBA will even attempt to finish their season. However, if the NBA was to return ESPN’S Brian Windhorst reported that the NBA had been discussing a 25-day plan for the season to resume. Windhorst stated that the plan would be “an 11-day series of individual workouts, where there’d be social distancing for a period of time, and then hopefully, if the clearance comes that they can play five-on-five basketball, 14-day training camp.” Therefore, if the NBA decided to try and resume their season there would still be a 25-day period before the anticipated start. Thus, even if the NBA decided that they wanted to resume the season in June it likely would not begin until July.

 What would happen if the NBA decided to open their doors and bring their season back? As it is highly possible that the United States will experience a second wave of coronavirus, if the NBA housed a basketball game it is possible that hundreds of fans could become infected. But do fans assume the risk of coronavirus by attending the game? Fans who attend sporting events generally are assuming the risk of injury of any dangers that are inherent to that sport. However, it is unlikely that coronavirus would be considered an assumed risk as it isn’t inherent to the sport. A fan may assume that if they attend a baseball game they could be struck by a foul hit, however fans unlikely assume that they may contract the coronavirus from attending a game, or do they? What if the fans are provided with notice of the risk of being exposed to coronavirus? Is that enough to limit the NBA’s liability if they decide to resume the season? Possibly, however facilities may look to administer warnings upfront of the possibility of contracting coronavirus and may require fans to sign a release. This release would absolve the facility or team from liability in a circumstance where someone contracts coronavirus. For now, Adam Silver stated that the league would not be able to make any decisions “until they have a better idea of how the nation, and the world, is controlling the spread of coronavirus.” However in the event that sporting events are allowed to proceed, it is likely that liability may follow.

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