The NHL has had many notable rivalries over the years, but none as deadly as their rivalry with viruses. Viruses are the ultimate rivalry for the NHL because you cannot see them, you cannot hear them, and they can be there. The NHL has had many run-ins with viruses and has never successfully fought them.
First of all, viruses thrive against the NHL because the NHL is an environment with lots of people in close quarters and lots of bodily fluids flying around. They have wet equipment placed in bags were it does not dry out properly. It is the perfect breeding ground for viruses and the NHL’s approach to handling viruses only adds to it.
The Spanish Flu
The first outbreak of a virus that we know about was the 1918 Spanish Flu. The book Flu: The Story Of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata is a really good starting point to understanding the flu that is commonly known as The Spanish Flu. The book looks at the potential history about the 1918 flu, how it spread, and why so little is known about it today. There are also some comparisons between it and the coronavirus that we are dealing with today commonly known as covid-19.
The 1918 Flu Pandemic presented itself in the form of pneumonia. It was swift-acting and little is known about how it came to be. At the time of writing the book, they were thinking it went from birds to pigs to humans as pigs are a common animal to transfer diseases to humans. The 1918 Pandemic has widely been cited recently for its comparisons to the 2020 Pandemic in which the illness is mysterious, can take swift turns for the worse, and spread rapidly amongst humans. So naturally, the NHL should be concerned.
The NHL and the 1918 Pandemic
Have you ever heard of Joe Hall? He was a Montreal Canadiens defenceman in 1919 and he died of the 1918 Pandemic (during the second spike) of the 1918 Flu in 1919. He died after he played a game sick. He died because he was in an environment that encouraged the spread of a virus. His death could have been avoided.
Hall’s death should be a warning shot for the NHL, even 101 years later. His death could have been prevented if the league had not continued on with two sick teams and decided to simply not award the Stanley Cup that spring. Viruses do not care who you are. They do not care if you have money or a family. Viruses might fester in certain areas and thrive in bodies with compromised immune systems, but they love everyone the same. They can get deep in your body and root themselves in there, only to kill you. It does not matter if the NHL tests people vigilantly because the virus will find them and hurt them. God forbid it kills someone.
What about Mumps?
Maybe the true warning shot fo the NHL should be the 2014 Mumps outbreak. We are not afraid of Mumps because we have a common vaccine that is easy to get a booster for. We also have an antibody test that is easy to get. Except when the NHL had a Mumps outbreak in 2014 they were not having players get antibody tests and booster shots if they needed them. Instead, there were teams having players play when they were clearly having symptoms from the Mumps.
There was a clear and simple way for the NHL to handle the Mumps outbreak in 2014. Instead of doing something that would have helped up the herd immunity of the NHL, the NHL did nothing. Vaccines do not last forever which is why we need booster shots for something like tetanus. When it comes to the MMR vaccine, you are normally protected because enough other people have the antibody active in their body for the vaccine. Except the NHL does not necessarily have the right mix of people and the booster might have been needed. It is easy enough to do and could have saved people from getting sick.
And Now For Covid-19
Earlier this shutdown, Patrik Laine gave an interview where he mentioned he was going to need to take his computer with him to wherever the hub city is so he can have something to do while there in the NHL’s bubble. He has still not decided when he is coming back to Canada because as far as he is concerned, there is no hard date set yet and it is not safe for them to play yet. The NHL should listen to Laine on this.
There is no road map for playing through a pandemic. There is no safe way to do this and covid-19 could flare up at any moment and shut everything down. There have been 26 positive tests from players skating recently, 15 from the second phase of opening the league back up. The question now is if the potential cost is worth playing? Morally can the NHL return to play? Does the NHL have the morality needed to resume play during a pandemic?
The NHL does not have a good track record when it comes to dealing with illness and injury in players. The culture surrounding the sport means people are encouraged to play through things that would normally mean many weeks of rest and rehabilitation. Covid-19 means players will need to be isolated from everyone if they get sick. It means they might not be 100% for a long time after their first diagnosis. It means their bodies might never fully recover and they might never be the same again. Covid-19 means they might die even if they seem to be a perfectly healthy person. And players with compromised immune systems or prior medical histories are even more at risk.
The NHL has long struggled with properly handling infectious and deadly diseases. Their recent track record is not good and the fact that one player died during the 1918 pandemic that had multiple waves in which the flu infections rose should remain as a warning to the NHL that by re-starting they are playing with peoples lives.
Flu: The Story Of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata was published in 1999. I read it using the Libby app after borrowing it from the library here.