Pro sports have always operated in a unique space as it relates to health privacy. On the one hand, there are absolutely some topics that are still off-limits for teams to disclose and are taboo for media to report. On the other hand, a pitcher getting Tommy John surgery, while a matter of health, is certainly big news that merits disclosure and reporting.
This year, in addition to normal player injuries, MLB is going to face a totally separate reason for player absences: a positive test for COVID-19. Indeed, so expected is this reality that the league has created an entirely unique list to excuse the absence of such players.
Given that using that COVID-19 list will mean there are roster transactions involved, and given the nature of public speculation, I don’t think this will go well:
Brian Cashman says his understanding is that the team will not be able to disclose when a player is placed on the covid-IL.
What if someone is missing from the lineup?
"We may not be able to speak to why and it would be a speculating circumstance."
— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) June 30, 2020
On the one hand, players deserve a measure of privacy when it comes to illnesses that aren’t baseball injuries. I don’t know that we have a RIGHT to know when a player has a certain sickness.
On the other hand, the practical realities of how this will play out are going to create truly bizarre, and possibly even more uncomfortable situations. Because again, there are roster moves at play. Imagine:[Cubs star player is removed from that day’s lineup]
Oh, hey, wonder what that’s about.
Oh, so it must be an Injured List situation.[Cubs star player is not placed on Injured List, and instead is just gone for a day or two or fourteen]
OK, so … are we supposed to just not say the thing? Is the guy OK? Are well-wishes appropriate even though we are being asked to speculate about health?
I tend to think players, themselves, might speak out on these things when it happens – or will permit reporters to do so for them – but this is just an odd initial approach to a situation that necessarily will involve an official MLB roster list. I expect this is a matter of the league trying to follow the law – good, fine, understandable – but I don’t see how this works out well, without some unnecessary friction.
UPDATE: Well this would seem to make things even worse. Joel Sherman reports that the current approach would be that the player is described as having been placed, generically, on the Injured List. But that immediately leads fans and media to – justifiably – seek out information about a baseball injury. When that doesn’t come, it’ll only prompt more loud digging and more discomforting interactions about the possibility of COVID-19, which really shouldn’t have a stigma in the first place.