Can the NFL Play Through a Pandemic?

There has been much discussion as to how and when professional sports should come back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA and NHL were amid a season when the shutdowns of mid-March began to close events. MLB was just about to begin Spring Training games when they put a pause on all activities. Both the NBA and NHL reopened successfully in July and in August respectively, and both were able to successfully complete their seasons. MLB started their season in July and is on pace to have a successful end to their shortened season later this month. Since the NFL was in the off-season when things were shut down and initially began to reopen, they were watching to see how other sports would respond and how the infection rate spread as the sports began again.

The NBA, NHL and MLB all showed that a complete, though shortened, season could happen even amid all the necessary changes. However, the difference between the NBA and NHL and the NFL is that both the NBA and the NHL seasons resumed in a bubble, meaning that all the players, coaches and staff were all in a contained area for the duration of the season. The goal of this was to prevent the coronavirus from spreading among players and coaches throughout the season. While MLB was able to complete their season without playing in a bubble, they did have some significant delays at the beginning of the season due to many players not following the rules and then testing positive for COVID-19. After examining how these, and other, leagues were able to have a successful season, the NFL decided that they would play the normal duration of the season with new rules in place designed to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among teams. However, since the NFL season had yet to begin, the NFL executives made the decision not to implement a bubble for all the teams because this would be too difficult to maintain with all 32 teams for the six months of the season.

The preseason and the first few weeks of the NFL season went very well. There were only seven cases of COVID-19 among the players over all 32 teams. Since then, some issues have arisen as players became complacent and ceased to follow the rules as strictly as they did at the beginning of the season. On Sept. 24, there were 22 people from the Titans organization who tested positive for COVID-19. In addition to this, there have been players from four other teams – The Atlanta Falcons, the New England Patriots, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders – who have tested positive since Sept. 24. While this does not necessarily mean that the season will have to be put on pause, this is a cause for concern and has warranted investigation from the league as to what could have been done differently to prevent this from happening.

As a result of what happened in Tennessee, there have been some changes that the NFL has implemented. An increased intake time for a new player on a team as well as isolating players and coaches who are “high-risk” close contacts for five days after encountering an infected person. Continuing forward from here, it will be imperative for the NFL to continually monitor how the players, coaches and other employees are behaving and diligently work to prevent another outbreak of COVID-19. Whether it is issuing fines when players/staff break the rules put in place this year regarding COVID-19, making a team forfeit the game when coaches refuse to wear their face mask during games, taking away draft picks from teams who refuse to follow the previously agreed upon rules or something else, there is much that the NFL can do in an attempt to prevent another COVID-19 outbreak. Regardless of what is done, another outbreak has to be avoided because it would put the season in a precarious position and could result in a hiatus.

Post Author: Tommy Reid