When multiple players from the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans tested positive for the coronavirus, it was a reminder of what could happen if there’s an NFL season.
Players will be at risk, and there’s not much the league can do to eliminate that. The NFL can put in procedures to minimize risk, but it can’t eliminate it. The same goes for football at all levels.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had a dire outlook on whether football can be played this season when asked by CNN.
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci told CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
The NFL has proceeded with its offseason as if the season will happen as scheduled. There are still plans for training camp and the preseason to start on time. The regular season is scheduled to start on Sept. 10. The league has not announced or publicly discussed any contingency plans.
“We are preparing to play the 2020 NFL preseason and regular season as scheduled and with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel and attendees,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email on Wednesday. “We will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this offseason, demonstrating that we can safely and efficiently conduct key activities, such as free agency, the virtual offseason program and the 2020 NFL draft. We will continue to make decisions based on the latest advice of medical and public health officials, as well as in full compliance with current and future government regulations. Our primary focus will be on protecting the health of our fans, players, club and league personnel and our communities.”
College football is even more complicated, with schools still working through decisions on whether students will be on campus in the fall.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills responded to Fauci’s comments in a statement, via NFL.com.
“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisers, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches and other essential personnel,” Sills said, via NFL.com. “We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem. This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts and other sports leagues.
“Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
The NFL’s first regular-season game is still almost three months away, so the entire outlook can change many times. But Fauci is not optimistic.
The NFLPA released a statement later Thursday from Dr. Thom Mayer, the NFLPA’s medical director, stating, in part, that the group agrees “that ethically, we cannot as a non-essential business, take resources away from our fellow Americans” as the need for “widely available testing” becomes “key to restarting football.”
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