Biden: No fan limit at Rangers’ park ‘a mistake’
- Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
- Previously covered the Angels for MLB.com
President Joe Biden, speaking the night before major league ballparks reopen to fans throughout the country, stressed the importance of wearing masks and continuing to abide by health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, calling it “a mistake” for the Texas Rangers to open their stadium at full capacity for Opening Day.
Biden made his comments as part of an interview with ESPN’s Sage Steele that will air on SportsCenter at 11 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
The Rangers’ Globe Life Field, which can seat 40,300, is the only Major League Baseball stadium that will allow 100% crowd capacity on Opening Day.
“Well, that’s a decision they made. I think it’s a mistake,” Biden said. “They should listen to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, the scientists and the experts. But I think it’s not responsible.”
The Washington Nationals will open their stadium to 5,000 fans on Thursday, a 12% capacity that is tied with the Boston Red Sox for the lowest in the sport. Several teams hope to join the Rangers on the 100% milestone over the summer. The NFL, meanwhile, is already making plans to host fans at full capacity when its season opens on Sept. 9, commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this week.
When asked how he would advise players who might feel hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Biden said: “I would say I’m President of the United States and I got vaccinated. I don’t have an unimportant job. Would I take the vaccine if I thought it was going to hurt me? We have done incredible research on the vaccines and they have shown that they work. We have to get to the point where enough people have taken the vaccine so we diminish the possibility for it to spread.”
As a way to potentially incentivize players to receive one of three approved vaccines, Major League Baseball sent a memo to teams on Monday that outlined relaxed protocols for vaccinated players, coaches and staff members, allowing them the freedom to eat at restaurants, gather indoors and fully utilize clubhouse amenities, among other activities. The league has specified two sets of relaxed protocols, one for individuals two weeks removed from being fully vaccinated and the other for teams that get 85% of their Tier 1 employees fully vaccinated.
People throughout the industry have previously expressed concern that enough players would agree to vaccinations for relaxed protocols to kick in. But St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Wednesday that his team had already reached that mark, and Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman expressed confidence that his team would eventually do the same. Other clubs are expected to follow.
The Nationals, however, announced that they received a positive COVID-19 test from an undisclosed player and that four other players would miss Thursday’s opener against the New York Mets under the contact-tracing protocol.
Biden noted that more than 600 million doses of the three vaccines — Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna — have been purchased by the U.S. government and that 75% of people age 65 and older have received at least one of them.
“We are moving across the board that way,” Biden said. “That’s going to diminish the prospects of its spread. In terms of it being responsible [for stadiums to open at full capacity] — you see what’s happening in Europe now when they lifted the mandates. I don’t know why we don’t just follow the science and beat this — just flat out beat it. We are going to have enough vaccinations, vaccinators. We’ve opened places. We’re doing everything we can to make it clear to people, ‘Get the vaccine as quickly as you can get it.’ By the end of [April], we’re going to be in a position where everyone can get the vaccine.”
As MLB and the MLB Players Association grapple with player vaccinations and how they affect the ever-evolving health-and-safety protocols, the league and the union are also monitoring a potential controversy around July’s All-Star Game in Atlanta. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law last week a sweeping Republican-sponsored bill that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run, one that, critics say, will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark previously said he “would look forward” to discussions around moving the Midsummer Classic out of Truist Park, and Biden, a Democrat, said he would “strongly support” such a decision.
“People look to them,” Biden said, referring to professional athletes and their outsized platforms. “They’re leaders. Look at what happened with the NBA, as well. Look what’s happened across the board. The very people who were victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports, and it’s just not right. This is Jim Crow on steroids what they’re doing in Georgia and 40 other states. What’s it all about? Imagine passing a law saying you cannot provide water or food for someone standing in line to vote. Can’t do that? Come on. Or you’re going to close the polling place at 5 o’clock when people just get off? This is all about keeping working folks that I grew up with from being able to vote.”
Biden described his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, as a diehard fan of Philadelphia sports teams and said the best athletes in his family are women, noting that one of his granddaughters is all-state in two sports. Biden and his wife hosted Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe and her U.S. women’s soccer teammate Margaret Purce in the Oval Office last Wednesday, then watched Rapinoe speak at an “Equal Pay Day” event in which she said she has been “devalued” as a woman.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2019 women earned 82 cents for each dollar paid to a man.
“I just don’t think it’s right and don’t think it’s fair,” Biden told Steele. “That’s why I supported Title IX.”
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