News Story

Is Whitmer’s Baseball Order Political Theater?

Rescinds already-rescinded restrictions, and after MLB says ‘play ball’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order to allow professional sports in Michigan raises questions about how her administration makes decisions regarding COVID-19.

The governor’s 133rd executive order was issued June 25, two days after Major League Baseball announced its plans to start its season. It received a lot of media attention, but it’s unclear what this accomplishes, as many of the activities it permits were already allowed under previous executive orders.

The June 25 order said, in part, “Fortunately, we are now in a position to allow professional sports to resume, subject to COVID-19 safety plans that are consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.”

But Whitmer had effectively allowed sporting activities across the state to resume, with some restrictions, in her 110th executive order, issued June 1.

That particular order states: “Outdoor fitness classes, athletic practices, training sessions, or games, provided that coaches, spectators, and participants not from the same household maintain six feet of distance from one another at all times during such activities, and that equipment and supplies are shared to the minimum extent possible and are subject to frequent and thorough disinfection and cleaning.”

In fact, Whitmer’s lawyers used this statement in court on June 23 to argue to a judge that she had, in fact, allowed many activities to resume, even if she thought gyms should still remain closed.

In a different executive order, she allowed spectators at sports arenas. Executive order 2020-115, issued June 5, states: “A concert space, race track, sports arena, stadium or similar venue may ... be open to spectators or patrons.” Indoor facilities are limited to 250 spectators and outdoor ones to 500.

The governor maintains that every decision she has made regarding COVID-19 is based on the best science and data. But it is not clear what data was used to determine that professional sports could resume immediately on June 25, but without fans.

Further complicating matters, on June 23, the governor said in an interview with WLNS-TV that she was concerned Michigan was on the verge of a spike of coronavirus cases. In that interview, Whitmer said it was very possible she would have to restore some of her COVID-19 restrictions. On a scale of one to 10, she said, her concern registered as an eight.

At 10:00 p.m. the day before, Major League Baseball announced that it was planning a 60-game season.

Whitmer issued the executive order to allow professional sports just 44 hours later.