One week ago, in the final game of the 2020 World Series, an odd and confusing sequence of events occurred. In the days since, it has become a bigger story than the Dodgers’ win itself and has sent the season out on a sour note.
In the eighth inning of Game Six of the World Series, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was pulled from the game after a second positive COVID-19 test result returned from the lab.
Turner left the field and went into isolation. In the meantime, his team went on to win the game and the series, bringing home its first championship since 1988.
Turner tweeted from isolation that he was asymptomatic and feeling good. Perfect. The team would celebrate on the field while Turner was in isolation. Sure, that wouldn’t be the best ending to the season, but hey, it’s difficult times and sometimes you just have to make sacrifices and—oh no, he’s on the field.
After seeing his team win a championship, Turner felt compelled to come out onto the field and celebrate with them. Of course, he started out with a mask on, but when it came time to take pictures, he felt compelled take it off. Then, he felt compelled to hug and high-five teammates, touch the trophy, and kiss his wife.
One week later, the biggest question is: why? Why did Turner insist on returning to the field, despite knowing that the protocols said he shouldn’t? Why did the Dodgers insist he should return, too? And why, in the following days, did they continue to support his return to the field, despite receiving massive backlash?
So far, the answers have been disappointing. They have boiled down to the idea that Turner just had to be on the field because this was such an important moment that he couldn’t possibly miss. He was such an important player for the Dodgers, and he just had to be there. Had to.
Now, I’m not much of a baseball fan, but as a basketball fan, I do understand how amazing winning a championship feels. And I’m not much of a Dodgers fan, but as a Bucks fan, I also understand how sad and disappointing a championship drought feels. And while I don’t understand how ending a championship drought feels, I’m guessing it would feel pretty spectacular.
But at the end of the day, no championship, no matter how long you’ve waited for it, no matter how hard you’ve worked for it, no matter how much you deserve it, is worth risking the lives of other people.
The person Turner sat next to in the team photo was Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a cancer survivor, who had a higher risk of dying from the virus. Additionally, ten days after the incident, five unnamed members of the Dodgers organization, as well as one family member, have turned in positive COVID-19 tests. As of writing this, it’s unclear whether or not this has anything to do with Turner, or if Roberts is in that number.
Now, it’s worth noting that Roberts was aware that Turner had tested positive and chose to sit next to him anyway. In fact, since the World Series, none of Turner’s teammates have said that they felt uncomfortable with Turner’s actions.
But that doesn’t make them acceptable. Just because they knew the risks doesn’t mean that Turner or the Dodgers organization should be let off the hook. Knowing the risks doesn’t mean you’re taking them seriously—and the Dodgers weren’t.
Now, Turner and Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten have released statements apologizing for the incident. However, these statements came over a week after the World Series, under pressure from the media and presumably the MLB, and no punishments were handed out.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement explaining why he chose not to punish Turner, basically saying that because the other players and a few Dodgers employees wanted him back on the field and because the MLB didn’t post a security guard to stop Turner from returning to the game, Turner would not be held responsible for his actions. And besides, he said he’s sorry.
This begs the question: why have rules if you’re not going to enforce them? All Manfred had to do was fine Turner and give him some sort of suspension for the start of the next season. That’s all he had to do. Simple.
Instead, he did nothing.
This sends the clear message to baseball fans: the MLB isn’t worried about COVID-19, and you shouldn’t be either. Never mind that the US is on its way to a million cases and well past 200,000 deaths—Justin Turner wanted to take a photo, and that’s what really matters, right?