John Harbaugh on Dr. Anthony Fauci's COVID-19 warning for NFL: 'I'm not going to run for cover'

Dr. Anthony Fauci made waves when he warned last week that football may not happen this fall.

John Harbaugh said on Monday he’s not so worried about it. But his confidence wasn’t without a hitch.

The Baltimore Ravens coach told reporters on Monday that he’s planning for the NFL season to move forward as scheduled.

‘Not going to run for cover’

“You can look at it any way you want to look at it, but I’m not going to run for cover, and I don’t think the NFL is either,” Harbaugh said in a virtual news conference, per The Baltimore Sun. “But they’re going to try to be safe and secure. And safety is going to come first, and the health of all us involved in the game, and the fans, are going to be a major priority.”

Harbaugh’s statement comes in response to a dire warning from the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. With coronavirus numbers spiking across the South and West and a second wave of the outbreak feared, Fauci expressed skepticism about football being played at all.

“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 on Thursday. “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.”

John Harbaugh said he's "confident" the NFL will play this fall before tamping down that assurance in the same statement. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
John Harbaugh said he's "confident" the NFL will play this fall before tamping down that assurance in the same statement. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

Harbaugh before: ‘Humanly impossible’

Not even two weeks ago, Harbaugh himself expressed doubt about meshing the conflicting realities of COVID-19 and football, calling it “humanly impossible.”

“To be quite honest with you, it’s impossible what they’re asking us to do — humanly impossible,” Harbaugh told 105.7 the Fan on June 11. “So we’re going to do everything we can do. We’re going to space. We’re going to have masks.

“But, you know, it’s a communication sport. We have to be able to communicate with each other in person. We have to practice.”

His thoughts on Monday are more in line with the NFL’s response to Fauci.

“Make no mistake, this is no easy task,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills wrote in a response to Fauci on Thursday. “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.”

Harbaugh’s confidence dwindles

Meanwhile, Harbaugh said that he’s confident in the NFL season happening. Though even in his own statement, he devolved from “confident” to “hopeful” to “praying for it” to “I want it.”

“I’m confident that it will happen,” Harbaugh continued. “I’m very hopeful. I’m praying for it. I want it to happen and I think it will happen, I believe it will happen. I think we’ll have the protocols in place.”

Harbaugh’s operating in the same reality as everyone else. That reality has put a damper in recent weeks over what had started to looked like a green light to a return to sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the coronavirus has surged in several states that relaxed social-distancing guidelines, teams across sports are struggling to contain it in their own circles as players start to gather again.

On Friday, Clemson announced 28 cases among 315 players and staff members tested, with 23 among players. On Thursday, Texas announced 13 positive tests among players and 10 more in self-quarantine. Kansas State reported 14 positive tests and shut down workouts.

NFL teams haven’t gathered for workouts yet. But if and when they do, they’ll face the same challenges as college programs.

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