The NFL has started its reopening process after team facilities had to be closed in light of the Coronavirus’ spread in the United States: coaching staffs are allowed to return since earlier this month and following a virtual offseason and draft, with players expected to be back once training camps open in late July.
The main question will then become how successfully the league’s Covid-19 protocols will work in case one of its more than 2,000 players or coaches contracts the virus. Expecting something like that to happen is not unrealistic considering that over 2.16 million people have tested positive since late February and the curve is still not significantly flattening in some parts of the country.
Among those to test positive are also “several” NFL players with the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, according to a recent report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. One of them is Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is apparently feeling good, per his agent Rocky Arceneaux. Elliott is the second big name to test positive after Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller was diagnosed with Coronavirus in mid-April.
“I had the virus, so I know how serious it is,” Miller told the Washington Post last month after his successful recovery. “It’s not just me saying do this and do that or just trying to raise money for a cause or anything like that. I actually had it. It’s something that is a part of me, just like the glasses thing. Everybody here in my house saw it. Not everybody has the same things that we have here. So I want to do as much as we can.”
Elliott and Miller are the highest-profile players to test positive so far, with other players also having gotten the virus at one point over the last three-plus months.
The New England Patriots have had no reported cases within their organization, but they too could occur — as is the case in every other of the NFL’s 32 total teams. This, in turn, could prove to be problematic for the league not just due tot he expected revenue loss stemming from playing games in front of empty stadiums. Former Patriots linebacker and current analyst Matt Chatham also sees a problem with players’ every-day behavior.
“I don’t get how this NFL season happens without teams living at their respective stadiums or quarantined team hotels, only interacting with themselves and other teams doing the same,” Chatham wrote on his Twitter account after the Elliott news broke. “It’s extreme, but work/life back-and-forth in a sport with this much physical contact jeopardizes the 2020 season. This would obviously be torture to be away from family and friends for around six months, but money drives everything in the NFL.
“Introducing a regrettable inconvenience to protect billions seems like the kind of decision the NFL would make — no matter how much it sucks on a personal level,” he added. “Another element to this: things are always subject to change. If by chance this works its way down to case rarity across the U.S. later in the fall, there’s an opportunity to return to normal. I just don’t see how you don’t start at a risk averse end to ensure you have that choice later.”
Fellow NFL-player-turned-analyst Geoff Schwartz voiced a similar opinion, pointing out how the league and its players are in favor of conducting business in light of the virus.
“The players and owners want a season. That’s why there will be a season,” he wrote on his own Twitter channel. “Here’s the thing. If there’s no season this year, then basically you’re just waiting for a vaccine. And what if the vaccine doesn’t come for years? No sports until a vaccine?”
For now, though, the league’s protocols seem to have worked: none of the players who contracted the virus in Dallas and Houston has reportedly been to the facilities and spread it that way. Of course, the whole outlook could change as soon as the NFL’s whole player body is allowed to return to work and begin working out and practicing alongside each other again. Even with distancing and hygiene guidelines in place, the full-contact nature of the game could make it a potential hotbed for spreading the virus.
The question then becomes how the league will react and if the protocols will do their job.