Oilers’ Caleb Jones shows courage by addressing COVID-19 diagnosis

Caleb Jones missed practice time with the Edmonton Oilers and revealed the news that he had tested positive for COVID-19, but was asymptomatic.

EDMONTON — Caleb Jones sat down in front of the laptop, looked right into the camera lens, and Zoom!

“Ya, hey guys,” he began. “So, about a couple of weeks ago I, uh, came into Edmonton actually early, and I was going to do my seven-day isolation. And, actually, I had a positive test for COVID.

“I had no symptoms — I was asymptomatic. I did my two-week isolation and tried to stay away from everyone. My first day back at the rink was actually Monday, the start of training camp. So, I was just the first few days getting back into it, and I was glad to be back full with the team (on Friday).

“So, that’s kinda the story there.”

Put it all out there, and move on. Let a story linger behind cover, and it never goes away.

Jones had likely heard the speculation that he’s contracted COVID-19. He knew he had been listed as “unfit to practice” when camp opened on Monday, like so many others across the NHL.

So instead of letting the rumours hang around, Jones laid it all down after Friday’s practice, opening his Zoom call with the media with an impromptu, ad-libbed statement.

For a 23-year-old with not a lot of NHL time under his belt, it took courage. I say, bravo.

“You have to respect Caleb. He came out, and he was very upfront,” said Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “When I first talked to him he said, ‘Hey, I’ve tested positive but I have no symptoms whatsoever. And I think there have been a lot of asymptomatic cases like that.”

Since Phase 3 began, the only other NHL player to publicly admit to having had the virus is Auston Matthews, after having been outed in a media article by the Toronto Sun. The article was factually correct and represented excellent journalism as we’ve always known it. But in the year 2020, the debate rages on over whether it is the media’s right to announce to the world that a player has COVID-19, the same way we would have reported on Connor McDavid’s knee injury last summer, had we been able to properly source the story.

We were not able to nail down the facts of McDavid’s torn posterior cruciate ligament last summer, and as such, rumours of his injury never turned into a solid, bylined report. But in case you are wondering, Sportsnet’s policy on reporting the Coronavirus is different.

Sportsnet will not announce a positive test for a player unless he reveals the news himself, or releases the news through his team or agent.

While Matthews admitted he had contracted the virus upon his first media session when Toronto Maple Leafs camp opened, Jones knew his status as “unfit to practice” had created an environment where people were wondering. He chose to tell the world. Others may not.

“It’s obviously a very weird (virus), and a weird time in the world right now,” said Jones, 23, who spent the pause at the Jones’ family home in Dallas. “Some people get really affected by it and it can deadly, and other people will never know they had it. I was lucky enough to be in that group. You know, if I never got tested I would have never realized I had it.”

Not long after NHL training camps opened on Monday, we learned that “unfit to practice” is as nebulous a term as the NHL could come up with for a player being away from practice. They do that so an injury list does not inadvertently “out” everyone who gets the virus by process of elimination, when all the other guys who miss practice have defined upper and lower body injuries.

I would warn you to get used to an NHL playoffs where injuries will be entirely vague, but isn’t it like that in every NHL post-season?

This injury, however, will play more on a player’s mind than, say, a pulled hamstring.

The quarantine. The “what ifs?” about contact tracing. The fears of long-term lung damage that simply don’t exist with traditional hockey injuries.

Jones has thought about all those things. But the fact he never really felt ill abated the worries.

“I couldn’t tell you where I got it. I know Texas was having a lot of cases,” said Seth Jones’ little brother, and Popeye Jones’ son. “My Mom, she was a little bit nervous for a second. But when I told her I felt completely fine she kind of just settled down.

“It’s one of those things. The world has to find a way to get through it right now.”

The world. The hockey world. The hockey media world.

We’re all trying to figure this thing out.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.