The Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers did not partake in National Football League (NFL) action this past Sunday. Now they are matching up against each other in Week Seven because 13 players have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Titans went into last week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings missing their outside linebacker coach because he had contracted the disease. Then, on the Tuesday following the game, a cluster of positive tests came out.
Under the NFL’s current policy, the Titans shut down their facility, and the earliest they can come back is sometime the following week, provided everyone who tested positive tests negative twice.
The NFL got very lucky that the Steelers, Titans and Baltimore Ravens did not have their bye weeks yet, because they were able to move these three teams around in order to fit the schedule. But what happens if another team has an outbreak in Week 12?
Cancelling games would be a logistical nightmare. Unlike Major League Baseball (MLB), that played 60 games this season, the NFL only plays 16. With one team already under shutdown and potentially more to come, the NFL is in big trouble if it wants to finish the season.
Going back to summer, before the NFL had decided how they would approach the season, other sports leagues figured out a way to play during the pandemic. The MLB, the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and the Premier Lacrosse League all were able to resume their seasons.
The NFL, looking at all of these different examples and how the pandemic as a whole played out, made the wrong decision.
When states differ vastly on how they approach the pandemic, the NFL needed to create a universal level of safety for its teams. Instead, it let teams play on their home fields and travel. Only with reluctance did the NFL give its players widespread testing and the ability to opt out. Insanity.
Essentially, the NFL has no functional bubble and has teams enforcing its own standards on how exactly it will keep its players distanced. So the Seattle Seahawks may have a pseudo bubble in a hotel nearby, but the Atlanta Falcons may go party at an airport after every practice. Of course, this is all speculation, but the fact that this scenario is even possible reflects poorly on the league.
The only league-wide policies revolve around testing and protocol for when a player or staff member tests positive. It is incredibly reactionary and, frankly, puts players at risk — as clearly demonstrated this week. If Ravens tight end Mark Andrews was in the place of one of the Titans players, he could face serious health implications as a Type one diabetic.
It is incredibly irresponsible of the leaders of the NFL to only think of themselves in a pandemic. Not only are players at risk, but personnel, such as equipment managers and trainers, are at risk as well.
All of these other people have families.
But instead of mitigating the risk of spreading with a bubble like the NBA, or a bubble city like the NHL, the NFL chose to be complacent.
Going forward, I sincerely hope the NFL changes its position and moves to a single site for as long as COVID-19 exists without a vaccine. With the flu season on its way, the rest of the year does not look optimistic for the safety of players and personnel.
What makes this shutdown so frustrating is that the NFL has the financial means to create a bubble. Obviously, there are some downsides to being in a bubble — such as isolation from family — but these downsides pale in comparison to the risks of travel and playing in front of fans.
I have little faith in NFL executives taking any effective action so long as a majority of games can be played. I hope they prove me wrong.