NFL chief medical officer says he's 'still very optimistic we’ll be playing football in the fall' despite coronavirus

Frank Schwab
·4 min read

NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills, while acknowledging things are changing and the league can’t eliminate the risk of contracting the coronavirus, is feeling good about the league’s season starting on time.

“I still do believe we’re on track, and I think we’re in a good place,” Sills said on “The Adam Schefter Podcast” from ESPN. “Obviously, none of us have a crystal ball, and we have to acknowledge that there are some unique features of this virus we can’t predict. But if we were to continue to track on this course we seem to be on right now, I feel optimistic about us being back and playing football this fall and on the schedule we’ve outlined.

“Yes I’m still very optimistic we’ll be playing football in the fall of 2020.”

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. But that’s what football fans want to hear, first and foremost.

NFL taking it slowly

The NFL didn’t have to make some of the tougher decisions facing the other major sports leagues. Sills pointed out that the country started to shut down less than three months ago. There are more than three months left before the NFL season is scheduled to start, so there is a lot of time for the NFL to learn more and watch what other leagues do as they get back to playing games.

Therefore, the NFL can move at a much slower pace in terms of reopening.

“We’re starting to incrementally move forward,” Sills told Schefter. “One of the mantras I’ve used throughout this is we want to have the approach of walk, then jog, then run. We’re very much in the walk phase.”

Facilities have started to reopen with select personnel and players getting medical treatment. The next step is coaches returning, then players. Getting to a point in which all 32 teams can be back in the office is a focus for the league, to ensure competitive balance.

“Equity in the league is a very big thing, so I think we wouldn’t want to do that until coaches can be at all buildings at the same time,” Sills said on Schefter’s podcast. That one happens above my pay grade, but I’d say we’re working in that direction.”

Even when teams are allowed to return, that just starts the next challenge.

NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills is optimistic the season will start as scheduled. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills is optimistic the season will start as scheduled. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

NFL knows it can’t eliminate risk

When you think of a football game, it’s clear there’s no way to completely avoid contact with other people.

“Football and physical distancing really don’t go together,” Sills said.

Sills said the NFL is taking things one step at a time, worried about things like conditioning drills when players can return. He said “robust testing” will be required, too. But he also acknowledged there will likely be positive tests.

“We know we’re not going to be able to make the risk zero,” Sills told Schefter.

“Our job is to identify them as quickly as we can and make sure we get those people appropriately treated and isolated from the rest of that team environment so we don’t have a chance to spread it around.”

The pendulum on optimism over the start of the football season has swung many times. The NFL has gone forward as if it will start on time, releasing a schedule without many contingency plans included. Then recently on HBO’s “Real Sports,” NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith said his optimism about the season starting on time was a “six or seven” out of 10, which wasn’t great. Sills sounded much more confident.

And as we know, it can all change very quickly, for better or worse.

“There’s a lot of time in front of us where we’re going to learn,” Sills told Schefter.

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