President Donald Trump met by phone with many U.S. pro sports leaders Saturday to discuss how that industry has been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, saying he was looking forward to the resumption of competitions “as soon as we can.”
“I want fans back in the arenas,” Trump said later in a briefing at the White House. “I think it’s ... whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”
A person with direct knowledge of what was discussed on the call said Trump believes the NFL season — scheduled to begin Sept. 10 — will start on time with fans in seats. But that seemed too optimistic for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was asked if he thought the NFL season would start on time.
“I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” said Newsom, whose state has three NFL franchises.
The NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball were all represented on the call by their commissioners — Adam Silver, Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell and Rob Manfred, respectively. None of the leagues released public comment about the call.
A second person with knowledge of the call said some commissioners, Silver among them, stressed to Trump that they are working on multiple plans to resume their seasons but cautioned none of those plans can be enacted without clearance from public health officials. The people spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because no discussion from the call was to be revealed publicly.
Others on the call included PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, UFC President Dana White, World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and Breeders’ Cup President Drew Fleming.
The NBA was the first of the major U.S. sports leagues to shut down on March 11, doing so after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Other leagues quickly followed, and hundreds of games have already been lost. The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled along with virtually every other college athletic event for the remainder of the academic year; major events like the Masters Tournament, the Kentucky Derby, Wimbledon, the French Open and the Indianapolis 500 have been either canceled or postponed; and thousands of arena employees have lost work because of the shutdown of the sports and entertainment industries.
NASCAR gave teams a tentative schedule to resume racing on May 24 with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. North Carolina’s stay-at-home order is through April 30. The next race on NASCAR’s schedule is May 9 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, which is under a stay-at-home order through June 10. NASCAR has so far declined to publicly address the schedule and said it had no comment on the call with Trump.
Penske suspended the IndyCar season 48 hours before the opening race and the next publicly scheduled event is May 30 at Detroit, a doubleheader Penske has said can be moved to later in the season if necessary.
Penske has already rescheduled the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in history to Aug. 23 from Memorial Day weekend.
The PGA Tour's next start is still scheduled for May 21-24, at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. After that would be stops in Ohio, Michigan, Canada and then the U.S. Open — scheduled to be played at Winged Foot — extremely close to the virus hotspot of New Rochelle, New York. The LPGA Tour just rescheduled its next five events, with the U.S. Women’s Open in Houston now set to be played in December in what would be the latest spot on the calendar ever for a men's or women's major championship.
It remains most unclear when anything will be able to resume. Even the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which announced its 2020 induction class including Kobe Bryant on Saturday, has a backup plan for October in case the pandemic delays its planned Aug. 29 enshrinement ceremony.
“I want to be happy and I am happy," said Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, one of this year's Hall inductees. “But at the same time, I want to also keep perspective right now, and let’s all do our part and let’s all get this world back on track and our country back on track.”
Trump addressed Little League players on Saturday, tweeting to tell them, “hang in there! We will get you back out on the fields, and know that you will be playing baseball soon. We will get through this together, and bats will be swinging before you know it."
Trump even said the need for social distancing is affecting his 14-year-old son, Barron. The president described his son as a good athlete and soccer fan.
“We have to get back,” Trump said. “We have to get back. Remember that. We have to get back and we have to get back soon.”
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer in Charlotte, North Carolina, AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia, AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson and AP Baseball Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.
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