The last few weeks in the NFL mirror the early weeks of the delayed MLB season, where the entire sport was thrown for a loop by COVID-19 outbreaks within teams. So far, the Tennessee Titans are the only team with a really substantial outbreak, but we’ve seen the New England Patriots have multiple stars test positive, and players on the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, and Las Vegas Raiders come down with the highly contagious coronavirus.
Two games have already been impacted. That number could grow, especially if the Patriots outbreak gets worse, after Stephon Gilmore’s positive test on Tuesday, just a day after the team played the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Patriots are set to host the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The Tennessee Titans’ Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers has already been pushed back to Week 7, with the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens getting bumped back into the teams’ Week 8 bye. The Patriots-Chiefs game was moved from Sunday to Monday after Cam Newton’s positive test. Even that one day move doesn’t guarantee that more positive tests won’t pop up in the coming days, and now the Chiefs, who all tested negative in their most recent round, have cause for concern.
According to ProFootballTalk, some of the league’s coaches are getting very annoyed with how the league has handled things thus far. Some have anonymously revealed that they feel that the league is putting the games ahead of the safety of players and other staff, and that the league is happy to pin blame on teams, rather than admit that its own protocols are lacking.
Some coaches think the league is more concerned about playing games and blaming teams for outbreaks than preventing outbreaks https://t.co/lmuYTjQPio
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 7, 2020
“Per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, there’s a growing belief in the coaching community that the league is more concerned about blaming teams for outbreaks than preventing outbreaks from happening,” Mike Florio wrote today. “…Some coaches believe that, indeed, the league will do whatever it has to do to get the games played — to the point that health and safety of players and coaches is taking a backseat to playing the games. They think that the league wants to be able to say, in the event someone gets sick or worse, that the problem wasn’t the protocols but the failure of one or more teams to follow them.”
The NFL has also reportedly rejected any idea of setting up a bubble system, which worked incredibly well for both the NBA and NHL. The two leagues have gotten through full playoffs, and for the NBA, some regular season games without any major issues. The NBA bubble has been so widely lauded that ESPN reporter Malika Andrews recently admitted that she is slightly worried about leaving it, as she believes it may be the safest place in the United States right now.
As one source explained it to PFT, Monday’s league-wide conference call included a presentation from NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills. He emphasized during the call that infections are inevitable but that if teams follow all protocols the infections will be contained. When the possibility of a team-by-team or regional bubble was mentioned, Sills argued that the league’s protocols, if followed, are superior to a bubble.
The NFL, with 50+ player rosters and a full regular season to play, would obviously have way more obstacles to overcome in setting a bubble up. However, the notion that the current protocols are “superior” has already proven wrong with the outbreaks within the league less than a month into play. The NFL also had its entire offseason to set up better protocols, while the NBA and NHL had to pause their seasons and construct a plan on the fly.
Hopefully the NFL season can move forward without much more damage, but right now it is hard to have much faith, especially if this is what the league’s messaging looks like.