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MLL Championship Moves Forward, Field Divided by COVID-19 anne evans
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MLL Championship Moves Forward, Field Divided by COVID-19

This is not the 2020 MLL Championship we wanted. This is not what we hoped for. This is not what anyone expected.

This is the 2020 MLL Championship we got. One without a semifinal decider, but ultimately a last-minute fast pass granted to the No. 1 seed Denver Outlaws and the No. 4 seed Boston Cannons after the Chesapeake Bayhawks and Connecticut Hammerheads have backed out of competition.

Gone is the chance to see the great Lyle Thompson defend his title. Gone is the chance to see Bubba Voigt and Michael Kraus ride a hot steak into the postseason. Gone is any semblance of what was absolutely feeling like a normal lacrosse event.

There is still hope for a stellar finale tomorrow on ESPN, but right now the sudden change is disappointing to say the least. Even with the asterisked shorted season serving a replacement for a summer-long campaign, we have been able to enjoy live lacrosse again from living rooms across the world. The broadcast value and content output from the league has been bar none to years past and we’ve been fixated by the play of stellar rookies and elder statesmen. Only two days remain of the eight day event and we finally hit a bump in the road, but a nasty bump nonetheless.

What we know is that multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 heading into the final weekend of play. Those players are being reported as all from the same team, the Chesapeake Bayhawks. Their opponent from last night, the Connecticut Hammerheads, were on the slate for another round today. Players were given their last coronavirus screening last night a 9 p.m. and received the results at 2 p.m. today, two hours before the first semifinal. The semifinal games were delayed to give time for test results to return.

According to the MLL Championship press release regarding the situation, at least one of the athletes was experiencing symptoms related to those connected to the virus.

“Yesterday evening a player in the league approached a member of his team’s medical staff with potential symptoms of COVID-19. He was immediately placed into a full quarantine and tested. Within a few hours it was determined that he had tested positive for the virus. Following the protocol, developed with a team of leading physicians before the start of the season, Major League Lacrosse immediately placed all players into quarantine. This morning, Major League Lacrosse tested all individuals who, through contact tracing, were determined to be at risk for COVID-19.”

From the account of sources inside the event, all non-positive testing players were given the choice to keep playing or remove themselves for safety. With a variety of players working in the medical field, starting new jobs, or in the direct care of others, the players that no longer felt safe in competition were backed by their teammates in the group’s decision to suspend play for 2020. This left the Connecticut Hammerheads retracting their bid to play in the semifinals, which would have shifted to feature them against the Boston Cannons to meet the top seeded Denver Outlaws in the championship.

No players on the Boston Cannons or Denver Outlaws tested positive on their most recent screening. The teams being comfortable to move forward with game play, Friday night’s rematch on Saturday has now been moved to Sunday and will serve as a grand finale. While it already feels strange enough claiming a season champion at the end of a long week, now we will never know if the two best teams are really going to compete for the Steinfeld Trophy.

Ultimately someone, or some group, is to blame.

While it was questioned if the league should even move forward with an representation of a season in 2020, players and organizers agreed the chance to fill a sport-less void in America was too good to pass up. A “bubble” is only as strong as its weakest member and while players have commented on how serious everyone has taken the safety protocol and how professional Major League Lacrosse has been in dealing with the athletes this season, it’s a fact that at least one person had to go rogue and break regulations for the virus to enter the camp. This could have been a player, a coach or a staff member, but it also could have been from any of the countless delivery drivers, hotel and grounds workers, and other ancillary help providing support to the overall event in one way or another. The whole structure can crumble around just one selfish individual who decides to sneak away from the boundaries of the event, allow outsiders in, or deal with potential contaminates without full safety precautions. Once the virus is inside the barrier, it’s open season to infect any body it comes in contact with.

Right now, we don’t know how many people broke the rules. We don’t know how it happened. We don’t know when it happened. What we do know from talking to individuals in Annapolis that many athletes, staff members and affiliated support took safety and measurements completely seriously, acting for the greater good of the MLL and humanity by staying put, having full transparency about wellbeing, and only consumed and interacted with things they knew were minimal risk.

This could have been a result of an honest mistake. We should all hope that is the case. There can only hope that an individual in the lacrosse community would be incapable of making such a nefarious decision knowing the game’s growth and human safety is on the line.

At some point, a bad egg made a careless decision and, at minimum, cost the MLL Championship an honest match-up. On the other end of the spectrum, safety were theoretically put at risk by committing to the event, but now athletes face an actual threat against their health and the lives of others. While it seems easy to point fingers at the MLL for not having tighter control of the quarantine or even playing in the first place, it appears there is someone out there who agreed to the protocol and then sidestepped the regulations compromising countless others.

It’s impossible to think an event of this size with so many bodies from around the continent would start without any positive cases leading up to it, but, after a week of closed competitions, it’s devastating for the results to come now.

While it’s an incredibly disheartening situation to think individuals can be capable of that level of selfishness, the game of lacrosse is still on ESPN tomorrow during an ideal Sunday time slot. While the integrity of the competition has been sacrificed to another degree, the game is still being broadcast into countless homes around the globe. What the athletes have given up and the risk they’ve assumed in the first place for the growth of lacrosse should reason enough for anyone to tune back in for one more game.

Asterisk or not, lacrosse is still growing.

MLL Championship 2020

No. 1 Denver Outlaws vs No. 4 Boston Cannons – 2 p.m. ET on ESPN