The National Football League is starting to see a rise in the amount of COVID-19 cases league-wide. As of Nov. 6, half of the league’s 32 teams are dealing with at least one case of COVID-19. That means at least 16 teams have either had a player contract the virus or had to shut down their facility due to a COVID-19 scare. It has become abundantly clear that the safety protocols and punishments for not following them are not working.
The NFL and National Football League Players Association agreed to have Polymerase chain reaction testing, a form of rapid testing, to all players scheduled to play that day. However, they don’t get results until Monday or Tuesday. This leads to COVID-positive athletes playing in games and possibly unknowingly spreading the virus. If a player is placed on the special COVID-19 reserve list on Monday or Tuesday, they could potentially still play on Sunday if they record five straight days of negative tests. In addition, masks are required for all team and league personnel, as well as the players, while they are traveling to and from games. They are also required inside all team facilities while not practicing. During the actual games, all coaches and other personnel on the sideline are required to wear masks. The league “strongly recommends” the same for players, but no league-wide mandate has been issued.
These protocols have not prevented the spread. The exact number of how many players and league personnel that have tested positive is unknown, but the estimation is around 160 players have been placed on the COVID-19 reserve list with 99 league personnel testing positive in the month of October.
In a memo to all NFL franchises, the league has tried to deal with the issue of post game interactions such as congratulations, hugging, jersey swapping, and other traditional occurrences. The memo reads, “However, if clubs permit such interactions, all players and club staff must wear masks or double-layered gaiters during any such encounter — to mitigate risk of transmission.” Nobody really listened to this memo after every game of the Week 9 schedule. We have yet to see the test results from these teams, so no solid number can be provided about the consequences of such actions.
The league is doing its best to dish out fines to set an example for the rest of its members. On Nov. 5, the Las Vegas Raiders were fined $500,000, they were stripped of a sixth-round pick, and head coach Jon Gruden was fined $150,000 because of repeated violations of the league’s protocols. Last month, Gruden was fined $100,000 and the Raiders were fined $250,000 because, once again, Gruden had not worn his face covering properly on the sideline during a game. Individual players on the Raiders were fined after they attended a charity event in a crowded indoor venue without wearing masks. The Tennessee Titans were fined $350,000 for holding secret practices while the league-mandated they stopped practicing after an outbreak of two dozen cases.
There’s also a problem with the league’s consistency. On Oct. 22, a Raiders player tested positive for COVID-19. Because of this, the NFL swapped Vegas’s 8:20 (Eastern Standard Time) game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the Seattle Seahawks versus Arizona Cardinals matchup slated for a 4:05 start. However, after the Baltimore Ravens announced cornerback Iman Marshall tested positive on Nov. 12, the NFL decided to go ahead with the Ravens versus New England Patriots matchup. Yet, that game will still be played on Sunday night. This sends an unclear message, and the fact that there’s even a whiff of the NFL caring more about money than their players’ well-being is disappointing.
The question then really is how sustainable is this back-and-forth situation the NFL has going on? Just like the rest of the country, the NFL is beginning to see a rise of COVID-19 cases and should become increasingly worried not only about the status of the season but also the general health of their players and personnel. Their situation drastically differs from the National Basketball Association’s handling of the pandemic, as the NBA entered a strict bubble and saw zero positive tests en route to completing their season. While the functionality of a bubble in a 32-team league with at least 53 players on the roster is questionable, discussions should be had as what they’re doing now obviously isn’t working to the benefit of their members’ health.