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NBA welfare officials report a "decline in player health care" amidst COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to circulate across the US, National Basketball Association (NBA) team officials in charge of player welfare describe the difficulties in trying to balance the regular care of athletes, whilst managing the coronavirus safety protocols.

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Ensuring that the protocols are met is taking up the majority of health officials' time, meaning that working with individual players, as would usually be expected, is having to take a back seat.

The usual role of a player welfare official in the NBA includes providing treatment, recovery and training, which have all had to be sacrificed greatly in the face of COVID-19 safety measures. Concerns have been raised about what the impact could be on players who are receiving a reduced level of individual care.

Speaking anonymously to ESPN, one Western Conference head athletic trainer said: "I've actually told my peers on these trips that we've been on -- it's very, very difficult for me to get my hands on [players]."

One Eastern Conference head athletic trainer reiterated the same point claimed that it was a common occurrence across the league.

A league health official added: "What scares me - and I know it's happening - is that their normal job of doing health care on players [is impaired]. I've had some trainers tell me, 'I haven't touched a player in two weeks because I've been so busy doing all this logistics and testing and all that.' That's concerning. That's definitely what I don't want to happen."

A second Western Conference head athletic trainer agreed: "There will be some decline in player health care," that head athletic trainer said. "But I think the larger part will be the overload of the care providers."

The NBA has provided a 158-page guidance on protocols, which has seen team health officials have to take up roles that would not usually be found within the make-up of a player welfare team, including a testing officer, contact tracing officer, face-mask enforcement officer, facility hygiene officer, health education and awareness officer and travel safety officer. Due to the number of new positions, some health officials are having to take up more than one of these roles.

A Western Conference general manager told ESPN that his team's health and athletic training staff are struggling to keep up with the measures but are doing all they can to protect their players.

"The reality is, these people are really working hard to keep us all safe," said the Western Conference GM. "And like the front-line health care workers, we probably haven't put enough time and thought into their physical and emotional state."

"I can't say thank you enough to my guys because you can feel it on them. It's really emotionally exhausting the health performance staff."

Author: Jake Wilkin