Gov. Whitmer allows pro sports to return in Michigan without fans

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday that will allow for the safe return of professional sports, without a live audience.
The order comes the same week Major League Baseball reached an agreement with the MLB Players Association on a shortened 60-game season, which allows teams to report to training camp July 1. The season will begin July 24 for the Detroit Tigers.
“Good news, sports fans,” Whitmer said in a released statement. “We are now ready to gradually and safely allow professional sports to resume in Michigan. While this is an encouraging step in the reopening of our economy, it is critical for athletes to continue social distancing and taking precautions to stay safe. We want to keep our momentum going and keep moving forward, so it’s incumbent on everyone doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
According to the order, professional sports training can resume as long as COVID-19 safety guidelines are followed, pursuant to Centers for Disease Control and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Participants must remain six feet apart “to the extent compatible with the sport,” the executive order states.
The order won’t have a significant immediate impact on the Red Wings and Pistons — their seasons officially ended earlier this month — it paves the way for the Detroit Lions to begin training camp on time at the team’s Allen Park facility and compete at Ford Field for a preseason game Aug. 20 against the New York Jets.
The NFL plans to begin training camps on schedule, with veterans reporting in late July, and commissioner Roger Goodell wants to “engage our fans both in stadiums and through our media partners” during the season, he told reporters Thursday.
[ Detroit Lions mailbag: Fans in stands, how coronavirus will affect roster ]
Whitmer has been adamant that stadiums will not be filled to capacity until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, and Thursday’s executive order prohibiting a live audience took it a step further.
“We need a vaccine, and we need mass quantities available to be able to test and acknowledge we have some immunity built up,” Whitmer said in May. “We’re not there yet. Until that happens, I think all the organizers of these leagues understand how important it is that we act responsibly here.”
At least two MLB teams, the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, aim to have fans in the stands. The Rangers are moving forward under state guidelines that allow for 50% capacity at outdoor sporting events, the Dallas Morning News reported. The White Sox are planning for 20% capacity at their stadium, according to Afternoon Drive 670 The Score, a Chicago radio station.
Right now, there’s no indication the Tigers will try to host fans in Comerica Park this season. Within the Tigers organization, one player and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19.
Whitmer’s executive order comes the day after an appeals court barred indoor gyms from reopening at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
[ Michigan gym owners furious over 11th-hour cancellation of planned reopening ]
A federal judge’s order would have allowed gyms to open across Michigan this week, but Whitmer asked the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to step in. On June 10, Whitmer allowed gyms to reopen in the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.
Whitmer’s executive order signed Thursday makes no mention of collegiate sports as athletic directors across the country remain optimistic for a 2020 college football season beginning in September.
Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman hopes for 20-30% capacity at Spartan Stadium, but Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel isn’t sure what Michigan Stadium will look like this fall.
Four of the five Divison I schools in the state –– Michigan, MSU, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan –– already have allowed certain student-athletes to return for voluntary workouts. Western Michigan is still working on a policy for players to return.
Two Michigan student-athletes tested positive since arriving in Ann Arbor on June 15 to begin the return process. Five Michigan State players have produced positive tests after undergoing a first round of tests June 15 and a second batch Monday.
CMU and EMU have declined multiple requests from the Free Press to provide COVID-19 testing information.