When COVID-19 hit the U.S., the NFL didn’t back down — it boldly decided to tackle the season head-on (with some safety protocols in place). However, as the virus starts to rise across the country, it has also broken through the armor of the league that has caused some uncertainties, says Peter Nyberg, an avid pro football fan and CFO of the Camino Community Center in Charlotte, NC.
At first, the season was rolling along as planned, with some teams even allowing fans in the stadium to watch the action live — which some other pro leagues (that followed a bubble format) decided against. However, it’s not the fans so much that have been affected as much as the players. While the NFL has been following a steady COVID-19 testing regime, it’s only in the last few weeks during play that cases have started popping up among the athletes.
Outbreaks Cause Schedule Revisions
Pro football saw its first outbreak during the season with the Tennessee Titans reporting positive cases. It started with a positive test of a player on the team on September 24, who was placed on the COVID-19 list and subsequently removed after satisfying the requirements. But the woes for the Titans didn’t stop there, says Peter Nyberg; one of the team’s coaches tested positive, prompting the team to temporarily shut down its venue.
Since that time, a total of 23 Titans — including players and staff — have tested positive. It prompted the NFL to take action and reschedule the Titans match versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Titans aren’t alone in being affected by COVID-19. A number of other teams are dealing with positive cases among players or staff, including the New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and the Kansas City Chiefs. As a result, the league has had to juggle numerous games in an attempt to mitigate risk.
The latest challenge has been for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who registered a positive test from the practice squad, with that player quarantined. After the positive case, the practice was held remotely as an added measure to keep them separated from the players on the roster. However, the match between the Jaguars and the Detroit Lions went on as planned, with the Lions winning handily, reports Peter Nyberg.
Updated NFL COVID-19 Rules Unveiled
Up until recently, the league has relied on wearing masks and social distancing. However, some teams have already been fined for not following the rules. For example, the NFL fined the Las Vegas Raiders $50,000 for violating locker room rules that state only authorized staff can be inside. Prior to that, the team and its head coach were fined for mask-wearing violations. Several players of the team were also handed fines totaling $175,000 for not following protocols outside of team facilities.
The Raiders are not the only team that has been fined for breaking the rules. Coaches of other teams have had fines as high as $100,000 for not properly wearing masks, with additional $250,000 fines for their teams.
The league has tightened its regulations around COVID-19, releasing a lengthy memo to teams about how to handle the situation when there’s a positive case. The memo was sent by league commissioner Roger Goodell to all the teams, not just the ones dealing with positive cases.
The document has some stricter rules in place. For example, it is threatening forfeiture of games if an affected team did not follow proper safety protocols. The commissioner also warned of “additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices.”
The league has also set a limit on how many players can be brought in for tryouts to five. Newly signed players (free agents or from other teams) also have to follow stricter COVID-19 testing protocols, with the testing period beginning the day they arrive, notes Peter Nyberg.
Not Sidelined For Season
If a player tests positive, they don’t have to sit the season out. For example, while the Patriots’ star quarterback Cam Newton was placed on the COVID-19 list in early October, he returned for a game against the Denver Broncos (which ended in a loss for the Patriots). In fact, several teams have had players placed on the COVID-19 list and then be cleared to return.
The NFL has protocols in place for what to do this season when a player tests positive. The league has outlined its testing procedure, noting players were screened vigorously prior to entering club facilities. For those during the season that do test positive, they can return after 10 days if there are no symptoms (or five days with two consecutive negative tests), and 10 days (along with 72-hours symptom-free) for those that did have symptoms.
The league adds that those with positive cases will also undergo “cardiac screening” as the virus has been shown to have effects on the cardiovascular system.
It has also implemented contact tracing using worn devices and the NFL COVID-19 list includes players that have been in close contact with those who test positive, notes Peter Nyberg.
Peter Nyberg on the Season Moving Ahead
It has already been one for the history books, with the NFL navigating several cases during training camp, while some players opted not to take to the field at all this season due to concerns about the pandemic.
Despite the setbacks due to COVID-19 and the game rescheduling, the NFL is moving ahead as planned, which is good news for pro football fans. The NFL is about to enter week 7 of a 17-week schedule, not including the playoffs.
While there have been stricter protocols put in place as more cases emerge, the league seems focused on moving ahead. Peter Nyberg continues to watch the situation (and the games) from Charlotte, NC, as COVID-19 spikes around the country.
By Jamie Cartwright