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Coronavirus May Have Lasting Consequences for Athletes

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Baxter Holmes of ESPN reports on the concerns the league has for players’ cardiac health.

US-HEALTH-VIRUS-RESEARCH-MEDICAL Photo by ARIANA DREHSLER/AFP via Getty Images

Although the NBA has taken massive precautions in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, there are concerns within the Orlando bubble that coronavirus may be the least of their worries over time. Baxter Holmes of ESPN reports that the NBA is concerned that players may suffer long-term damage to their cardiovascular system should they contract coronavirus.

“There are unknown effects it has on lung capacity, unknown effects it has on cardiac health,” said one general manager of a team entering the NBA bubble, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “What if a 24-year-old catches it in Orlando and, in 14 days, he quarantines and is fine, but then he has these everlasting heart problems? [Or he] gets winded so easily, or he becomes a little bit too susceptible to fatigue? ... These are all the unknowns.”

The league has plans to screen players for cardiac anomalies prior to their return to play.

Any player who tests positive for the virus must undergo a “COVID-19 Pre-Participation Cardiac Screening” in accordance with CDC protocols before beginning team-organized activities, according to the league’s health and safety protocols.

One particular worry is how long it may take players to return to play and what lasting damage may be done to players’ hearts, should the coronavirus cause an inflammatory response, says the NBA’s director of sports medicine, John DiFiori.

“That data does show that there are probably two different ways that the virus can affect the heart,” DiFiori said. “One of those is a direct effect of the virus itself on the heart muscle and the heart function, and the other is sort of an indirect response where the virus stimulates a massive inflammatory response, and that inflammatory response can affect heart function.”

For athletes who depend on their heart and lung function operating at a high level to compete, lasting damage to their heart may mean that their career in professional athletics is over. However, DiFiori notes that there is still a lot doctors do not know about coronavirus, but states that the league has “to be very, very cautious in [their] approach.

The Portland Trail Blazers underwent testing prior to entering the bubble. They begin play with a scrimmage against the Memphis Grizzlies on July 23rd. Their first game, also against the Grizzlies, is slated for July 31st.