Notable athletes who have opted out of playing amid coronavirus crisis

LAFC’s Carlos Vela
LAFC’s Carlos Vela, the reigning MLS scoring champion and MVP, will not take part in the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando, Fla.
(Shaun Clark / Getty Images)

After a shutdown of more than three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many professional sports have returned or are getting ready for a return.

Major League Baseball teams have resumed training for the 2020 season, which is now scheduled to start July 23. Major League Soccer will pick up its season with a tournament in Orlando, Fla., starting Wednesday. The NBA also will be in Orlando to wrap up its season starting July 30.

The WNBA plans to play a reduced season that would begin in late July at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The NHL is working toward a return later this month in two yet-to-be-announced hub cities. The National Women’s Soccer League came back with a tournament that started late last month.

Some players have opted out of rejoining their teams, however. Here’s a list of some notable athletes who have decided not to take part in the restart.


Avery Bradley, Lakers guard

Avery Bradley
(Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)


Bradley told ESPN on June 23 that the primary reason for his decision was the health of his 6-year-old son Liam, who has a respiratory condition that makes him high risk if he were to contract COVID-19.

“As committed to my Lakers teammates and the organization as I am, I ultimately play basketball for my family,” Bradley said. “And so, at a time like this, I can’t imagine making any decision that might put my family’s health and well-being at even the slightest risk.

“As promised also, I will use this time away to focus on the formation of projects to help strengthen my communities.”


Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies utility player

Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Desmond, an 11-year veteran, announced his decision on June 29 at the end of a lengthy Instagram post about police brutality, racial injustice and the lack of baseball’s accessibility for far too many youths.


“With a pregnant wife and four young children who have lots of questions about what’s going on in the world, home is where I need to be right now,” said Desmond, who is biracial. “Home for my wife, Chelsey. Home to help. Home to guide. Home to answer my older three boys’ questions about coronavirus and civil rights and life. Home to be their Dad.”


Tobin Heath, Portland Thorns forward

Tobin Heath
Tobin Heath
(Steve Luciano / Associated Press)

The USWNT player is opting out of the NWSL tournament because of health concerns. “Although I want to be on the field with my teammates doing what I love, because of the uncertainty and risks created by COVID-19, I have chosen not to participate,” she said.


DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn Nets center

DeAndre Jordan
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie, two key players on the Nets, have tested positive for the coronavirus. Dinwiddie intends to try to play in Orlando when the NBA season restarts. Jordan said he would not.

Jordan, the longtime Clippers center who has battled asthma throughout his career, said he will miss the remainder of the season. Jordan averaged 8.3 points and 10.0 rebounds, largely coming off the bench.


Mike Leake, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher

Mike Leake
Mike Leake
(Matt York / Associated Press)

The right-hander was not considered a “high-risk individual” as part of MLB’s health and safety operating manual, so he will forfeit his 2020 salary.

“During this global pandemic, Mike had many discussions about playing this season,” agent Danny Horwits said in a statement. “They took countless factors into consideration, many of which are personal to him and his family. After thorough consideration, he has chosen to opt out of playing in 2020.”


Nick Markakis, Atlanta Braves outfielder

Nick Markakis
Nick Markakis
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Markakis told reporters on July 6 that he made his decision after talking to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who has tested positive for the coronavirus.


“Just hearing the way he sounded on the phone kind of opened my eyes,” Markakis said. “Freddie didn’t sound good.”

He added: “I love the game. I hate to see it the way it’s going right now, but that’s the way things have to be. ... I think the decision that I’m making to sit out this year and be with my family makes it tough, but I think that’s the right decision for myself and my family.”


Chiney Ogwumike, Sparks forward

Chiney Ogwumike
Chiney Ogwumike
(Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

Ogwumike suggested in a statement that she would not have sufficient time to prepare for the unorthodox, 22-game season as previous injuries require careful attention. The two-time All-Star missed the 2015 season because of a knee injury and the 2017 campaign after Achilles surgery.

“This year is unprecedented in many ways,” Ogwumike said, “therefore my team and I have come to the decision to be proactively cautious and put my body first.”


Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers guard

Victor Oladipo
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

The two-time All-Star suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in January 2019 and returned a year later, only to see the season shut down 13 games into his comeback.

“I really want to play, and as a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart,” Oladipo told The Athletic. “I feel like I’m at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent. With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble, I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing. I have to be smart and this decision hasn’t been easy, but I truly believe continuing on the course I’m on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me.”


Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants catcher

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

San Francisco Giants veteran catcher Buster Posey announced on July 10 he will not take part in the 2020 MLB season. Posey and his wife recently adopted twin girls who were born prematurely and are still in neonatal intensive care. His said his decision to sit was based on ensuring he would not endanger the health of his family.


“The Giants fully support Buster’s decision. Buster is an integral part of our team and will be sorely missed, but we look forward to having him back in 2021,” the Giants said in a statement.


Christen Press, Utah Royals forward

Christen Press
Christen Press
(Francisco Seco / Associated Press)

“It is deeply painful not to be able to play the game I love, and to watch the broader effects of the global pandemic on our league, sports and our world,” the USWNT player said in a statement. “Regrettably, given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, I must elect not to participate in this [NWSL] tournament. I know how fortunate I am to be able to make this choice. I have enormous respect and gratitude for those who do not have the luxury to choose whether to report to work.”


David Price, Dodgers pitcher

David Price
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Citing his and his family’s health during the novel coronavirus outbreak, Price announced on July 4 that he has opted not to participate in the 2020 season.


“After considerable thought and discussion with my family and the Dodgers, I have decided it is in the best interest of my health and my family’s health for me to not play this season,” stated Price, whose two children are under the age of 4. “I will miss my teammates and will be cheering for them throughout the season and on to a World Series victory. I’m sorry I won’t be playing for you this year, but look forward to representing you next year.”


Megan Rapinoe, OL Reign forward

Megan Rapinoe in 2019
Megan Rapinoe
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

The U.S. national team superstar has not given a reason for opting out of the NWSL tournament.

“Megan let us know that she has decided not [to] play in the tournament,” Reign chief executive Bill Predmore said in a statement. “Like all NWSL players, she was given the option to participate. … We understand and respect her decision.”


Joe Ross, Washington Nationals pitcher

Joe Ross
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)


Ross went 4-4 with a 5.38 ERA last season and was expected to compete for the Nationals’ fifth rotation spot. The right-hander did not issue a statement, but his family might have played a role in his decision. According to the Athletic, Ross’ father is a pediatrician and his mother is an emergency room nurse in Oakland.


Kristi Toliver, Sparks guard

Kristi Toliver
Kristi Toliver
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

After helping the Washington Mystics to a WNBA championship last year, Toliver signed a three-year deal with the Sparks as a free agent in February. The 33-year-old point guard averaged 13 points and a career-high 6.0 assists per game last year.

“Though I want very much to compete with my team, to be a leader and show up for them, I am not comfortable with the risk to my physical health — short-term and long-term — given the many unknowns of COVID-19 and the risk of injury,” Toliver said in a statement. “For me, the right decision under the circumstances is to opt out for the year.”


Carlos Vela, LAFC forward

Carlos Vela
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)


Vela, the reigning MLS scoring champion and MVP, will not take part in the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Vela has chosen to remain home with his pregnant wife, Saioa, and the couple’s 3-year-old son, Romeo.


Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals first baseman

Ryan Zimmerman and daughter Mackenzie
Ryan Zimmerman and daughter Mackenzie
(Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Zimmerman cited his family circumstances — he has three young children, including a newborn, and a mother who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — as the reason for his decision.

“Everyone knows how much it means to me to be a part of a team, and I will miss that camaraderie dearly this year,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “Of course I would love to pursue back-to-back titles. I cannot speak for anyone else, but given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family, and I truly appreciate the organization’s understanding and support.”

Staff writers Kevin Baxter, Jorge Castillo, Mike DiGiovanna, Tania Ganguli, Arash Markazi , Thuc Nhi Nguyen, Chuck Schilken, Broderick Turner and Dan Woike contributed to this report.