NFL Flexes Flexibility during Covid Crisis
The same week the President of the United States was diagnosed with Covid-19, the NFL had a Covid crisis of its own. The NFL had Covid positive tests featuring 4 different teams-Saints, Titans, Patriots, and Chiefs.
The matchups between the New Orlean Saints and Lions played this Sunday, after all mass testing at the Saints hotel came negative. While the Titans and Steelers game was postponed to a later date, and the Patriots and Chiefs game was moved from Sunday to Monday.
In the face of adversity the NFL showed it was able to adjust. The NFL chose optimism or over pessimism, and took action to find resolutions instead of canceling and panicking.
The entire league made it through the month of August without a single case or outbreak. Outside of a few outlier tests, the first three weeks of the season have been relatively Covid free. However, the beginning of October has thrown the NFL a new challenge when it came to handling Covid.
It began on Monday, when 16 members from the Tennessee Titans football organization tested positive for Covid after traveling Eight staff members and eight players tested positive after the Titans game against the Vikings. Both teams immediately shut down their facilities the following Monday.
Now the Titans’ Week 4 game against the Steelers has been rescheduled for Week 7, on Oct. 25 in Nashville. To make that move, the NFL also had to move the Steelers-Ravens game, originally scheduled for Week 7, to Nov. 1. The Ravens’ bye will now be during Week 7. (The Steelers and Titans will have their bye weeks now, during Week 4.)
In addition, there was an internal investigation to see if the Titans organization violated NFL Covid protocols. If infractions were committed, individual members and the organization will receive a multitude of fines, suspensions, or other repercussions.
Friday night the NFL world turned into a tailspin when news broke that Patriots starting quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for Covid that night. It was the first time a starting quarterback had tested positive for the virus all year. It came at an all important time when the Patriots were playing the Chiefs.
Newton was a full participant in practice for the entire week, so there was a chance Newton could have spread it to his teammates. However, since Newton’s positive result every other Patriots player has tested negative for the virus as of Sunday night. Similar to the MLB, the NFL has access to (POC)- point of care lab results.
With the negative test Sunday morning, the NFL was able to move the game back just one day to Monday night. The Chiefs also had to deal with their own Covid situation, where practice squad quarterback Jordan Taumu tested positive for Covid as well. Both the Chiefs and Patriots will go through rapid Monday morning testing before the game. The NFL made this statement in response to rescheduling the contest-
“In consultation with infectious disease experts, both clubs are working closely with the N.F.L. and the N.F.L.P.A. to evaluate multiple close contacts, perform additional testing and monitor developments,” the league said in a statement. “All decisions will be made with the health and safety of players, team and game day personnel as our primary consideration.”
The decision to continue to play the early season marque game is a huge moment for the NFL season. It is a brave decision by the NFL to keep their product moving forward in the face of criticism, but it also raises legitimate questions. What happens if one of the Monday lab results comes out positive? There is also no logical recourse if the Patriots travel to Kansas City and if they find out a positive lab result on the plane- or what if something comes up during the game. In a way, the NFL is slightly putting their season at risk.
This is uncharted waters the NFL is navigating around, but they are doing it attentively. The NFL has reinforced one of the more strict Covid policies for a non bubble professional sports league. Just last week, the NFL gave out millions of dollars worth of fines for coaches that did not wear their mask on the sideline.
The league sent a memo on Friday October 3rd, to teams stating that players and coaches would be prohibited from leaving their team’s city during bye weeks. In addition, NFL vice president Troy Vincent threatened to take away draft picks to teams that did not enforce covid protocols. Vincent released this statement about the likelihood of the NFL playing a full season – “If we are to play a full and uninterrupted season, we all must remain committed to our efforts to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus.”
On Monday there will be a mandatory zoom call for all NFL coaches and players directed towards educational conversion about containing the virus.
Similar to the MLB, the NFL is relying on players to maintain personal responsibility of limiting the spread. There are only so many enforcement mechanisms they can use. At the end of the day, it comes down to personal responsibilities of the multibillion dollar organizations, and millionaire professional athletes to set the example of containing Covid.
The NFL has shown its ability to be flexible in uncertain times. While maintaining the importance of player safety, the NFL has shown that the Corona Virus will not hold them hostage. The NFL is not backing down, and they have explemlied what it takes to find solutions in the face of the problems. They are making decisions based on data centered protocols made by the nation’s best scientific minds, and that they will not react to slanted media backlash.
The NFL is determined to play a full football season for the players, the fans, and the country. I am ready for the Monday night doubleheader that will take place tonight. The Chiefs will host the Patriots at 4:05 PM PST, and the Packers will host the Atlanta Falcons at 5:50 PM PST.