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Political Divide Over COVID-19 Regulations Presents Challenge for Youth Sports

A lack of funding and numerous regulations have prevented many youth sports leagues from reopening safely and effectively.


The last few months have seen just about every activity become controversial over the potential risk of spreading COVID-19. Refreshingly, however, professional sports have been a source of some common ground. With a rare bipartisanly agreed upon statement, President Trump said, “We want to have our sports leagues open. You want to watch sports. It’s important. We miss sports. We miss everything.” Despite a strong partisan divide on the logistics of opening up a potential superspreader, professional sports pushed through. With a lot of pressure from sports fans and the highly lucrative professional sports industry, professional sports have made a big return. Both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) have already opened reasonably safely. The National Football League (NFL) is midway through their season, and so far it has all gone well as far as COVID-19 is concerned. All that being said, there is still a battle for the return of sports for hundreds of thousands of student athletes. Professional sports have deep pockets to use to create a safe way to play. Youth sports leagues are not likely to have these financial resources. To create a safe return, youth sports teams have a lot to consider. 

East Bay based youth baseball coach Eddy Kleinhans has worked with officials from both the City of Berkeley and Alameda County to ensure that his practices meet safety guidelines. Kleinhans manages and coaches the Cyclones, a non-school affiliated baseball program with many teams of different age groups. The deliberate care taken by team officials, players, and parents of players have successfully prevented any team-related COVID-19 cases. The Cyclones are a great example of how trusted health officials in a community are able to save lives. Kleinhans also mentioned that other baseball programs and tournaments have not all taken the same care in starting up again. This is where national politics manages to seep its way down into everyday life. There has been a fierce partisan divide over how to balance safety regulations with personal freedoms with regard to COVID-19. Generally, the Republican Party leans far toward fewer regulations, such as stay-at-home orders. Some prominent Republican politicians have complicated this further by spreading information inconsistent with messages from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or other health experts. President Trump, a Republican, has gone so far as to demonize the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). Democrats have pushed for more regulations and supported public safety organizations with the reasoning that keeping citizens safe is of top priority. Because of this political divide, there are vastly differing standards of safety used to host practices and tournaments. This falls in line with what Kleinhans said about how some teams are “going to practices and playing games and going to tournaments … that are definitely not allowed at this time.” Viciously polarized national politics have set a bad example, and American citizens will ultimately pay the price. Hopefully, Kleinhans and the Cyclones will be a part of setting a better example. 

Having regulation that keeps people safe and integrates smoothly into society is no easy task. For example, a public school may have to juggle the regulations of the school district, city, county, state, and country all at the same time. In a perfect world, these types of rules are consistent with each other. In reality, there are all sorts of oversights and gaps in regulations. Robert West is a Berkeley High School (BHS) graduate who is currently in his sophomore year at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). West rows crew for UCLA but has had large portions of his season cut off. So far this school year, the crew team has not been meeting. As West explained, “We have been at home, trying to do stuff on our own.” This in part is due to a county-wide ban on in-person athletics within the ages of 18 to 25, which prevents the team from using their boat house, the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center. The local highschool team that shares the boathouse with UCLA is allowed to practice under these rules. The imperfect nature of these regulations is almost inevitable considering how tumultuous the world has been since the beginning of the pandemic.

The next few months are likely to see rapid shifts in safety regulations that promise to change the situation for youth sports. The US is at one of its most politically divided moments, and as a result there are a mess of regulations leading to large inconsistencies across the board in COVID-19 regulation. For the time being, youth sports remain in somewhat of a gray area.