If you wondered why the NFL went forward with the Week Four game between the Patriots and Chiefs only three days after New England quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, you’re not alone.
Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty expressed uncertainty on Saturday as to whether the league or the NFL Players Association truly have the best interests of players in mind.
“I think outside of here, the people that don’t have to walk in our building — whether it is the league office, whether it is the NFLPA — they don’t care,” McCourty said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. “For them, it is not about our best interest, or our health and safety, it is about, ‘What can we make protocol-wise that sounds good, looks good, and how can we go out there and play games?’ I think what I kind of learned personally throughout this situation is it is going to be up to us as individuals in this building to just really take care of one another.”
McCourty’s comments, though rare from the ranks of NFL players, aren’t unreasonable. The protocols crafted by the NFL and NFLPA contain multiple donut holes that fail to ensure the absence of outbreaks, from the incubation period to the lag between sample collection and test results to the failure to test players on game days.
“If you get a chance to talk to the NFL or the NFLPA, I’d greatly appreciate you bringing up that point and letting them know. That’s something we talk about, and we are dealing with it. We’re moving forward and it’s obviously in the back of our mind,” McCourty said.
McCourty said that he decided to say in a hotel for the season, after discussing the situation with his wife, Melissa.
“That was kind of a plan me and my wife [Melissa] talked about before the season even happened, but we’re living through a pandemic, so you can’t just assume, like, ‘Hey, we’re never going to have a positive test.’ [So] I will just isolate myself away, make sure I stay away until everything is clear and the virus runs its course and we’re all set before I went back into the house,” McCourty said.
McCourty admitted that he and his teammates were confused about the decision to play in Kansas City only three days after Newton tested positive. The confusion was validated by the fact that, a day after the game, cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive. Gilmore reportedly had dinner with Newton hours before he learned about his positive test.
“[T]hat’s a thought — the same way you guys are sitting there thinking about it like, ‘Hey, they’re getting on a plane on Monday [to go to Kansas City], well, those days don’t really add up with the incubation period,'” McCourty said. “That was the same question we were asking our union before we head out there.”
The game still went forward, as most games will this season even if a player or coach tests positive. If every team had to slam the brakes on all activities for four or five days after every positive test, plenty of games would be postponed and plenty of those games eventually would never be played.
Until the league and the union agree that all players, coaches, and other team employees will stay in a hotel for the balance of the season, the risk that someone will be shedding virus in the presence of others will linger. Although the league believes that adherence to its protocols will prevent the virus from spreading, the far better goal seems to be the creation of a scenario that minimizes if not eliminates the total number of positives. Absent a home-market bubble, the risk will remain that one or more of the 170 or so players, coaches, and other personnel who leave the facility every night eventually will bring the virus to the facility, and potentially spread it.