Limited impact on pro sports

Data released from professional sports leagues in early March provided at least some reassurance that the problem may not be as great as initially feared. Pro athletes playing football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey were screened for heart problems before returning from COVID-19 infections. The players underwent an electrical test of their heart rhythms, a blood test that checks for heart damage and an ultrasound exam of their hearts. Out of 789 athletes screened, 30 showed some cardiac abnormality in those initial tests and were referred for a cardiac MRI to provide a better picture of their heart. Five of those, less than 1% of athletes screened, showed inflammation of the heart that sidelined them for the remainder of their seasons.

The researchers compiling the data did not name the players, although some have disclosed their own diagnoses. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez returned to the mound this spring after missing the 2020 season following his COVID-19 and myocarditis diagnoses. Similarly, Buffalo Bills tight end Tommy Sweeney was close to returning from a foot injury when he was diagnosed with myocarditis in November.

In the college ranks, many assumed Keyontae Johnson — a 21-year-old forward on the University of Florida men’s basketball team who collapsed on the court in December, months after contracting COVID-19 — might have developed myocarditis. The Gainesville Sun reported that month he had been diagnosed with myocarditis, but his family issued a statement in February saying the incident was not COVID-19-related and declined to release additional details.

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