The NFL issued new recommendations this week regarding players on sidelines, encouraging physical distancing and mask wearing. The reason for the shift is simple; the league has realized that, in a gameday setting, the biggest risk of infection potentially arises not for players on the field, but for players not on the field.
It was a recent positive test by a Texans player that prompted the NFL to take a closer look at sideline interactions and to realize that, indeed, far closer contacts happen when players not in the game interact.
The league continues to look at widening the sideline area to accommodate proper distancing among players. At the same time, the league hopes not to compromise football integrity. For example, when the defense is receiving in-game instruction while the offense is on the field, spreading them out becomes impossible.
Still, given the inherent donut hole that exists between sample collection and the arrival of test results, players can be shedding virus on the sideline during a game. While players on the field may not have the kind of sustained contact necessary to transmit the virus, players not on the field possibly do.
For now, the new rules are optional. Eventually, they could officially become part of the joint NFL-NFLPA protocols.
Even if the rules become mandatory, enforcement will continue to be a challenge. Already, it’s mandatory for players not in the game to wear masks in San Francisco and Buffalo. Compliance with that directive is far from universal.
It will be interesting to see whether teams and players comply with the new recommendations this weekend. Frankly, it may take another outbreak — possibly one that triggers an eighteenth week to the regular season — before players embrace a dramatic adjustment to the sideline experience.
NFL realizes sideline infections may be more likely than on-field infections originally appeared on Pro Football Talk