Each day during the sports pause stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, NESN.com will publish a diary full of random thoughts, opinions, takeaways, and other cool tidbits we’ve stumbled across in the absence of actual games. Because why not? We’re all in this together.

What a time to be alive.

2020 has been a year for the history books, to say the least. It’s been an eventful six months, from the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant to the sudden COVID-19 outbreak to the recent protests over racial injustice. And, unless you’ve lived under a rock, professional sports have been at the forefront of many of these headlines.

As we’ve noted in previous diaries, sports have and continue to play a pivotal role during trying times like these. For some, sports have been a voice for the voiceless seeking change in their respective communities. For others, sports are a way to soothe one’s psyche, especially during turbulent times like these. Most other fans land somewhere in between.

No matter where you might fall on the sports fan spectrum, the impact sports have had on this year’s news cycle has been astronomical — and for good reason, too. Athletes have become increasingly comfortable with using their platform to promote both health and safety and positive change, but it hasn’t come without criticism.

Some fans believe it’s not athletes’ place or job to comment on issues outside the realm of sports, while others simply believe they aren’t intelligent enough to do so. Either way, fans continue to adopt this mentality even as players on both sides of the political spectrum use their platform to speak out on some of the major issues plaguing the country.

Personally, the whole “shut up and dribble” mentality is one I’ve never understood. Sure, plenty of people look at sports as a way to escape from the outside world. But that doesn’t mean athletes competing in these sports should ignore major issues, especially when they can impact their personal lives.

And while that kind of toxic mentality slowly is fading away, there still are plenty of people out there that believe athletes should stick to their craft. But here’s the real question: will this kind of mentality ever go away?

The answer, obviously, is no. But there’s something some fans need to understand, and I want to put it as kindly as possible.

There are going to be players you admire that likely hold different beliefs, whether they’re political or otherwise, than you. And that’s OK. And while it’s also OK to disagree with their stance, it’s not OK to demand their silence because you disagree with their stance — or even their decision to speak up. These athletes have a unique platform to help drive positive change, and shaming them for it never is the answer to the problem at hand.

Do I think some athletes are using their voice for the great good? Yes. Do I think some athletes have a tendency to spew nonsense? Of course I do. But do I think athletes I disagree with should remain silent? Absolutely not. Silence never is the answer, no matter who is speaking or what they’re saying. And that goes for athletes, too.

It’s time for change in this country. And part of it starts with acknowledging athletes are more than a source of entertainment. They are human beings, too, with feelings and personal lives and all that jazz, and deserve the same respect any normal human being does.

After all, athletes don’t deserve special treatment, right?

Anyway, here are a few fun tidbits from Monday’s news:

— The coronavirus is rearing its ugly head at professional sports as leagues attempt to execute their respective return-to-play plans.

Several NFL and Major League Baseball players and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last few days. Players on the Dallas Cowboys (including running back Ezekiel Elliott) and Houston Texans are among those that have contracted the virus, though its unclear which MLB clubs have been impacted.

While each league claims to have new health and safety protocols in place, this certainly raises the question of whether leagues and teams alike are prepared to cope with a sudden influx of positive coronavirus cases. Doctors have expressed confidence in their respective leagues’ ability to handle a potential flare-up in COVID-19 cases, but will that actually be the case?

I, for one, am curious to see how leagues will handle an outbreak once one inevitably occurs. After all, actions speak louder than words, right?

— Roger Goodell is doing a complete 180 regarding his stance on Colin Kaepernick.

The NFL commissioner condemned the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s decision to kneel during the nation anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality during the 20216 season. But now, it appears Goodell has had a change of heart.

Though he’s already admitted he was wrong for not listening to Kaepernick back then, Goodell took things one step further during a recent conversation with ESPN’s Mike Greenberg.

“Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s gonna take a team to make that decision,” Goodell said. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision, and encourage them to do that.

“If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us, guide us, help us make better decisions about the kinds of things that need to be done in the communities. We have invited him in before, and we want to make sure that everybody’s welcome at that table, and trying to help us deal with some very complex, difficult issues, that have been around for a long time.”

Well, isn’t that big of him? Too bad it’s *checks notes* nearly four years overdue.

— The NHL is getting ready to resume its 2019-20 season, though it’ll be skipping the rest of the regular season.

Instead, 24 teams will compete in an extended playoff format that will allow teams that were on the playoff bubble prior to the league’s hiatus to complete for the Stanley Cup. And while some weren’t pleased with the proposal, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes this is a pretty fair situation for all teams involved.

“We had 189 regular-season games left as of March 12 when we took the break,” Bettman told Greenberg on ESPN’s “The Return of Sports” on Monday. “So while the regular season was largely completed, we had a number of teams that were on the bubble. And you know we have extraordinary competitive balance (in the NHL) and any of those teams that were on the bubble outside of the top 16 in each conference had a legitimate chance of making the playoffs, some more than others. And we decided we needed a play-in round to give those teams a chance to ultimately make the playoffs, and that’s going to be a best-of-five series.

“… And I think everybody can feel good based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we’re going to run the playoffs that this will be a full competition, which will bring out the best in our teams and our players, and the Stanley Cup champion will be deserving of that crown and the most storied trophy in all of sports.”

Some fans might not agree with his logic, but Bettman certainly makes a fair point.

— Speaking of the NHL, the league still has some pretty big awards to hand out this season.

One of the most coveted awards each year is the Hart Memorial Trophy, which goes to the league’s most valuable player. David Pastrnak happens to be in the running for this year’s award, but the Boston Bruins star thinks someone else is more deserving: Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl.

“For me, it’s absolutely no question,” Pastrnak said Monday. “For me, what Leon Draisaitl was showing up the whole season. A lot of people say, ‘Oh he’s playing with Connor’ and stuff. Connor was hurt for a month or two and he brought it up even another level up. For me it’s absolutely no question it’s going to be and it should be Leon Draisaitl because the way he played this year there is absolutely no question for me.”

While we’d love to see Pastrnak take home the hardware, it’s hard to disagree with his logic. Draisaitl racked up a whopping 110 points (43 goals, 57 assists) with roughly a dozen games left in the Oilers’ regular-season schedule.

But hey, Pastrnak’s league-leading 48 goals and 47 assists still are pretty impressive.

— Basketball is back. (Well, almost.)

The WNBA on Monday announced its plan to kick off the regular season in July, though an official start date has not been set. The league’s 2020 schedule originally was slated to begin May 15, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

All 12 teams will travel down to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. at the beginning of July, where players will participate in team training camps ahead of the regular season. Players will be paid in full, according to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“We are finalizing a season start plan to build on the tremendous momentum generated in the league during the offseason and have used the guiding principles of health and safety of players and essential staff to establish necessary and extensive protocols,” Engelbert said Monday in a press release from the league.  “We will continue to consult with medical experts and public health officials as well as players, team owners and other stakeholders as we move forward with our execution plan.”

So. Damn. Close.

Stat of the Day
The WNBA’s 22-game season will be the shortest in league history.

Tweet of the Day
Yeah, Nuff said.

Video of the Day
Danny Ainge coming in clutch with some quality content for your Monday.

More COVID-19: NFL To Test Players At Least Three Times Per Week, May Use Saliva Test

Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images