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In mid-March, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer issued a joint statement: members of the media would henceforth be barred from locker rooms and clubhouses, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The leagues pledged to make players and staff available in more socially-distanced settings, but many sports journalists reacted warily, warning against “unnecessary” limits on their hard-won access, and pointing out that the leagues still intended to let fans attend games. The latter objection, at least, was quickly rendered obsolete. One day after the media restrictions went into effect, the NBA suddenly postponed its season after Rudy Gobert, a Utah Jazz player, tested positive for COVID-19. The day after that, the NHL and MLS suspended their seasons, too, and the MLB nixed Spring Training, and said its season would start at least two weeks later than planned.
Four months of hiatus, uncertainty, and contractual wrangling later, professional sports, including baseball, are only just getting started again in a country that is, if anything, even more troubled now than it was in the early days of the pandemic. For sports reporters covering the restart, access restrictions haven’t just persisted since then—they’ve intensified. Members of the press are still banned from getting too close to players and staff, and in the absence of such informal opportunities to chat, interviews are often mediated by a PR rep, or by Zoom. Dieter Kurtenbach, of the Bay Area News Group, told The Ringer that
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