The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay rays in game six of the World Series on Oct. 26. The 3-1 victory helped secure their first championship title in 32 years, per KTLA News. Every baseball player dreams of the moment when they storm onto the field and celebrate earning the greatest honor in Major League Baseball. However, to what extent does public health take precedence over tradition? This question came to light immediately following the victory when Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner took to the field to celebrate the win with his team. What was the issue with this, you may ask? Just hours earlier he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was subsequently removed from the game.
His decision to leave isolation showed a blatant disregard for the health and safety of everyone celebrating, and sent a clear message that Turner prioritized his personal experience over the well-being of his teammates and the Dodgers’ faculty and staff. Although he did originally come out wearing a mask, it was taken off for the sake of photo opportunities, further exposing the people around him.
“It is clear that Turner chose to disregard the agreed-upon joint protocols and the instructions he was given regarding the safety and protection of others… Turner’s decision to leave isolation and enter the field was wrong and put everyone he came in contact with at risk,” said the MLB per the Associated Press just a day after the game. “When MLB security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply.”
The issue here is the inconsistency that ensued, coming from the league’s executives. The MLB’s decision to speak on matters before an investigation was carried out was unprofessional and vilified Turner before considering all factors which may have influenced his decision. An investigation was launched by the MLB a day after the incident, but was closed on Nov. 6.
MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. spoke on the matter, acknowledging that although his objective was not to exonerate Turner from his wrongdoing, he wanted to “put into context” the incident at hand. In his statement, he concluded that there were several factors which contributed to Turner’s decision to leave isolation, including the alleged fact that his fellow teammates actually encouraged him to join them in celebrating, considering they were already exposed.
Another reason provided by the commissioner is that an unidentified person had told the 35-year-old athlete that others had tested positive as well, and that he had been singled out in isolation, while others were out. It should be noted that nowhere in his release did Manfred apologize to Turner for the league’s decision to paint him as a perpetrator, without consideration for factors that may have contributed to his choice to celebrate.
Ultimately, it was concluded that Turner would not face any penalties, and his public remorse may have played a role in this lack of disciplinary action. Much like Manfred, Turner did not justify his actions in his statement, and rather tried to describe his state of mind during that night.
“I have spoken with almost every teammate, coach and staff member, and my intentions were never to make anyone uncomfortable or put anyone at further risk,” Turner wrote.
The fact of the matter is, no matter how genuine he may have been in his apology, by failing to have this incident serve as an example of a zero-tolerance policy that the league should uphold for COVID-19 guideline violations, the MLB is setting a precedent that violations are excused on a conditional basis.
An argument can be made that perhaps Turner’s test delivered a false positive diagnosis, and missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime due to a faulty test would be a terrible shame. Unfortunately, this virus does not allow for hypotheticals, and until Turner was cleared by a medical professional, his actions should be deemed unacceptable.
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