The coronavirus pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of our lives in 2020, and the sports calendar has been hit particularly hard. Every major sport that was supposed to be in action since March has seen some mix of games being canceled, playoffs being rescheduled, preseason activities being drastically changed and fans being left with nothing to watch for long periods of time.
While the top professional sports leagues in North America have all resumed play or are preparing to begin their schedule as of August, the pandemic has left them without some major stars. The NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and WNBA have all given their players the option to skip the 2020 season and still receive some money, as athletes weigh the risks of playing while COVID-19 is still running rampant.
These are the most notable athletes from those leagues who’ve made the difficult decision to sit out this year while their teammates compete.
Dont’a Hightower (NFL – New England Patriots)
Patriots veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower is arguably the most high-profile NFL player who has decided to skip the 2020-21 season because of COVID-19 concerns. The three-time Super Bowl champion, shown on the left here, made his second Pro Bowl last season as he led New England to the best scoring defense in the league. Hightower made his decision to sit out in July, shortly after the birth of his son. His mother also has Type 2 diabetes and that’s believed to have factored into his choice.
David Price (MLB – Los Angeles Dodgers)
Dodgers pitcher David Price is one of two Cy Young Award-winning starters to skip the abbreviated 2020 MLB season. The five-time All-Star decided it was in the best interests of his family to sit out, despite his team being the favorites to challenge for the World Series. “I’m sorry I won’t be playing for you this year, but look forward to representing you next year,” Price said in a statement in July. The Dodgers have certainly missed his arm, as he had a 3.84 earned run average and a .657 win percentage in the past four seasons as a starter in Boston.
Willie Cauley-Stein (NBA – Dallas Mavericks)
Like Dont’a Hightower, a new baby was the primary reason Willie Cauley-Stein decided to skip the NBA’s restart in the Orlando bubble. The Mavs are going to be included when the NBA playoffs start this month, but they’ll miss his rebounding skills when the postseason tips. Cauley-Stein’s daughter was born on July 7, and the former All-Rookie selection himself carries the sickle cell trait, which likely also played into his decision to sit out.
Carlos Vela (MLS – LAFC)
Major League Soccer took a major hit when one of its best players for one of its top teams decided to skip the league’s comeback tournament in Orlando. LAFC star Carlos Vela was named MLS’s most valuable player in 2019 after breaking the league’s single-season scoring record by tallying 34 goals. He scored another two goals in just two starts in 2020 before the season was put on hiatus. Vela announced his decision to forgo the MLS Is Back Tournament in early July, citing the fact that his wife was pregnant with their second child. LAFC ended up being knocked out in the quarterfinals.
Liz Cambage (WNBA – Las Vegas Aces)
One of the all-time greats in the WNBA decided to stay home while her Aces teammates got ready for the 2020 season. The three-time All-Star center is a major part of the team’s power, giving them 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game a season ago. Cambage’s decision to skip the season came after she was deemed high risk for complications of COVID-19 by the team’s doctor (with no further explanation). Her play helped lead the Aces to the second-best record in the Western Conference in 2019.
Travis Hamonic (NHL – Calgary Flames)
The NHL only had a handful of players opt out of its season restart, taking place inside two bubbles in Canada. Travis Hamonic, a defenseman for the Calgary Flames, was the first to announce he was staying home. Hamonic cited concerns for his family’s health in sitting out Calgary’s Stanley Cup playoff run. CBS Sports reported that his young daughter battled respiratory illness in 2019, which caused her to be hospitalized.
Buster Posey (MLB – San Francisco Giants)
Before baseball started back up, it lost one of its most recognizable stars in Buster Posey. The six-time All-Star and former National League MVP became the most high-profile position player to opt out when he announced his decision. Unlike some others who’ve made that call, Posey said it wasn’t a difficult decision for him, citing the health of the newborn twin daughters he and his wife adopted this summer. The girls were born prematurely, giving them weakened immune systems.
Damien Williams (NFL – Kansas City Chiefs)
Running back Damien Williams was a big part of the offense that helped the Chiefs win a Super Bowl last season. He scored seven total touchdowns and averaged more than 60 all-purpose yards per game during 2019-20. So it disappointed Kansas City’s rabid fans to hear that Williams was sitting out the team’s bid to repeat as NFL champions. Although his health is fine, Williams made the decision because of his mom’s recent cancer diagnosis.
“My mom is my rock, my everything,” he said in a radio interview when asked about the tough choice.
Spencer Dinwiddie (NBA – Brooklyn Nets)
When the Nets stepped into the NBA bubble to restart their 2019-20 season, they were without one of their best players in Spencer Dinwiddie. The guard put up career-best numbers that probably should have landed him in the All-Star Game this season before the hiatus, averaging 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per game. Dinwiddie’s decision came after he battled COVID-19 himself this summer. He tested positive for the virus twice, in June and again in early July, and decided it wasn’t worth risking the health of his teammates.
Ike Opara (MLS – Minnesota United)
In addition to losing its reigning league MVP to COVID-19 concerns in its restart tournament, MLS lost its reigning defender of the year. Ike Opara, of Minnesota United, earned that honor for a second time in his career because of his excellent play last season. The former MLS Cup champion announced his decision to opt out on July 2, tweeting that it was because he was still rehabbing from a preexisting condition. The lack of Opara on their back line might have led the team to give up three goals and get ousted in the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Kristi Toliver (WNBA – Los Angeles Sparks)
Two-time WNBA champion Kristi Toliver is another major star that the league lost before its season started. She made the call pretty early, announcing in late June that she simply wasn’t comfortable risking her health when so little was known about the lasting effects of COVID-19. It came as a major blow to the Sparks roster, as Toliver was coming off of back-to-back All-Star seasons and had averaged 13.5 points and 5.2 assists per game since 2018.
Nate Solder (NFL – New York Giants)
Giants offensive tackle Nate Solder has only missed one game since 2016, meaning it will be an odd sight for him to be missing from the line this entire season. The three-time Super Bowl champion announced his decision in late July, citing numerous health concerns based on his family’s history with cancer. Solder himself has battled testicular cancer, and he has a son who is currently fighting cancer. The veteran lineman’s family also welcomed a new baby this spring, making the decision even more clear for him.
Ryan Zimmerman (MLB – Washington Nationals)
Fresh off of a World Series win in 2019, the Nationals are without their longtime clubhouse leader for the abbreviated 2020 season. Two-time All-Star first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been a part of the team’s lineup since it debuted in Washington in 2005, making his absence particularly jarring. The 35-year-old slugger made the tough decision based on the health of himself and his family. In a conversation with noted Nats fan Dr. Anthony Fauci, Zimmerman said he fully plans to come back for 2021.
DeAndre Jordan (NBA – Brooklyn Nets)
Veteran center DeAndre Jordan was one of the first NBA players to opt out of the league’s Orlando restart. He made his decision in June, following a one-on-one bout with COVID-19. Like teammate Spencer Dinwiddie, Jordan tested positive for the virus and that spurred his choice to sit out the restart. The three-time All-NBA selection averaged 8.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in 56 games with the Nets this season before the hiatus.
Mike Green (NHL – Edmonton Oilers)
The Oilers made a deal to get veteran defenseman Mike Green at the NHL trade deadline this season, but they are missing his skills during the return to play. The two-time All-Star only got to play in two games for his new squad before his season with them would effectively be over. Green decided to skip the restart because of his concerns about the unknown effects of COVID-19, according to Canada’s Sportsnet, citing “deeply personal family health reasons.” Edmonton ended up being eliminated from playoff contention during the qualifying games inside the NHL’s bubble this month.
Robbie Robinson (MLS – Inter Miami FC)
At just 21 years old, Robbie Robinson became one of the youngest pro athletes to opt out of his sport’s 2020 restart. The rookie forward was the top overall draft pick in MLS last offseason, making his decision to skip the MLS is Back Tournament one of the most notable. Robinson left the Orlando bubble for undisclosed personal reasons and was unable to return to help Inter Miami FC, and they exited in the group stage.
Jonquel Jones (WNBA – Connecticut Sun)
Prior to the 2020 season, Jonquel Jones had never missed a WNBA game in four seasons at the top level of women’s hoops. That changed when she decided to skip the season because of concerns about COVID-19. The choice was particularly tough for Jones as the Sun nearly won a championship in 2019 after she had a career season. She averaged 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds for Connecticut, making the All-Star Team in the process. Jones cited the unknown aspects of the virus and the resurgence of it in Florida, where the WNBA would be playing its entire season, as her reasons for skipping.
Patrick Chung (NFL – New England Patriots)
The Patriots have had more players opt out of the 2020-21 season than any other NFL team, and Patrick Chung is another major one who will be missing. The veteran safety has won three Super Bowls with the franchise in his 10 years on the roster and has only missed a handful of games over the past six seasons. Chung said the decision to leave one of the game’s best defenses for a year was made for the safety of his family. He told “CBS This Morning” that factors for his choice included having a son with asthma, a baby daughter on the way and a 75-year-old father.
Lorenzo Cain (MLB – Milwaukee Brewers)
Two-time All-Star and reigning Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder Lorenzo Cain made his decision to pull out of the 2020 MLB slate a little later than some others. He played in five games with the Brewers during the restart before making the call that he didn’t feel safe and wanted to finish the year at home. He was batting .333 in those games, but his absence has been especially noticed on defense, leaving Milwaukee a weaker team than they were when the shortened season started. Cain made his decision as his team sat idle when a series with the rival St. Louis Cardinals was postponed because that team had a COVID-19 outbreak in the clubhouse.
Davis Bertans (NBA – Washington Wizards)
Wizards power forward Davis Bertans was one of the breakout stars of the 2019-20 NBA season before the hiatus. The Latvian big man put up 15.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game this year, both easily career highs in what was his fourth season. So the team’s fans hated to see Bertans become the first NBA player to announce he was skipping the restart inside the Orlando bubble. Some have said his decision to sit out was a brilliant business move, as he stands to make a huge splash on the free agency market this offseason. For what it’s worth, the Wizards started their eight-game restart at 0-6 without Bertans in the lineup.
Lucas Cavallini (MLS – Vancouver Whitecaps)
MLS star Lucas Cavallini’s family was hit hard by COVID-19, making his decision to forego the league’s restart a relatively easy one. The Whitecaps forward said in a statement that he’s had two “beloved” family members die from the virus this year and that he didn’t want to be away from home during the outbreak. Cavallini, seen on the left here, has scored 68 career goals in 186 MLS matches, and Vancouver clearly missed his talent when they restarted in Orlando. The club was eliminated in the first round of the knockout stage of the MLS is Back Tournament, following a scoreless match.
Chiney Ogwumike (WNBA – Los Angeles Sparks)
Another star player for the Sparks who opted out of the 2020 season was Chiney Ogwumike. The two-time All-Star forward/center was good for 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds a year ago, in her first season in Los Angeles. Ogwumike is a former top overall draft pick, but she’s had plenty of health issues so far, missing two entire seasons before this one for injuries. She chalked her choice to sit out up to guarding her health. Her older sister and Sparks teammate Nneka Ogwumike conversely made the decision to play this year.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (NFL – Kansas City Chiefs)
The fight against COVID-19 is extremely serious to Luarent Duvernay-Tardif, so much so that it is taking all of his professional focus during 2020. The Canadian offensive lineman, who started 14 games up front during Kansas City’s march to the Super Bowl last season, is also a medical school graduate. It was that part of his background that has led him to work as an orderly at a Montreal care facility this year, taking care of patients recovering from the virus. Duvernay-Tardif was the first NFL player to announce he was skipping the upcoming season, saying he wanted to keep up his work helping patients on the front lines.
Félix Hernández (MLB – Atlanta Braves)
MLB veteran Félix Hernández likely would’ve been in the Braves starting rotation this season, but he decided to sit the summer out. The 34-year-old former Cy Young Award winner and six-time All-Star had a career-worst 1-8 record as a starter in 2019, his last of 15 seasons with the Mariners. Hernández’s decision to wait until 2021 to get back on the mound was a choice of protecting the health of himself and his family.
DeMarcus Cousins (NBA – Free Agent)
Four-time All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t currently have a team, but he could’ve joined one ahead of the NBA’s restart in the bubble. Plenty of teams would’ve probably loved to have his size and experience during the sprint to the NBA Finals, but he decided to skip the whole thing and wait for next season. The big man suffered an ACL injury earlier this year, prompting the Lakers to waive him. This opt-out was seen as a path to allowing his knee to recover fully before he gets back on the court.
Asia Durr (WNBA – New York Liberty)
WNBA up-and-comer Asia Durr had to be among the most disappointed athletes to miss their 2020 season. The 23-year-old guard averaged 9.7 points per game for the Liberty as a rookie in 2019 before an injury cut her season short. Then, as she was getting fired up for a second-year comeback, she came down with COVID-19. It was that positive test and her battle with the virus that led Durr to opt out of the shortened WNBA season on July 7.
C.J. Mosley (NFL – New York Jets)
C.J. Mosley’s decision to skip the 2020-21 NFL season is proof that even the toughest guys in sports can be afraid of COVID-19. The four-time Pro Bowl linebacker cited the health of his young son as the primary reason he made his decision. Mosley called the choice the biggest one he’d made regarding football since he chose which college to attend. Many Jets fans were disappointed in his move, especially after he was limited to just two games last season.
Ian Desmond (MLB – Colorado Rockies)
Two-time MLB All-Star Ian Desmond announced his decision to sit out the 2020 season in a powerful post on Instagram. The three-time Silver Slugger Award winner cited the fact that his wife is pregnant and they have four young kids at home as a major reason, but their physical health wasn’t the only motivator. Desmond said the ongoing discussions about institutional racism and police violence against Black people drove him to walk away from baseball for the year.
“Home is where I need to be right now,” Desmond wrote. “Home to answer my older three boys’ questions about coronavirus and civil rights and life.”
Tiffany Hayes (WNBA – Atlanta Dream)
Like Ian Desmond, Tiffany Hayes had social justice reform partly on her mind when she made her decision to sit out the 2020 WNBA slate. The former All-Star has spent her entire eight-season career with the Dream, but the franchise has had plenty of turmoil behind the scenes this year because of its co-owner, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has expressed views opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement. Hayes, who averaged 14.7 points per game for Atlanta last season, didn’t name Loeffler in her decision to sit out but said, “I believe there are much more important things to be thinking about in this moment.”
Yoenis Céspedes (MLB – New York Mets)
The Mets were as surprised as anyone when Yoenis Céspedes decided to sit out the 2020 season — because he simply didn’t show up to the ballpark one day. The two-time All-Star outfielder had played with his team for eight games after the season’s July start before making his decision to pack up and go home without telling anyone. His choice was reportedly related to COVID-19 concerns, leaving the team without a bat that had given them 29 runs batted in during his last full season in 2018.