How football leagues are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

By Anastasia Bekker 

Elm Staff Writer

The National Football League and college football teams are implementing safety protocols to protect players from COVID-19. For all games in the season, everyone, excluding the players, must wear masks, and all players and team personnel must be tested daily for COVID-19.

“The NFL-NFLPA Game Day Protocol, which reflects the advice of infectious disease experts, club medical staffs and local and state governmental regulations requires all individuals with bench area access,  including coaches and members of the club medical staff to wear face coverings at all times,” Troy Vincent, the executive vice president of the NFL operations, said in a memo released on Sept. 14, after the first week of games. 

Coaches that have failed to comply with this rule have been fined. Head Coach and Executive Vice President of the Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll, Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers Kyle Shanahan, Head Coach of the New Orleans Saints Sean Payton, Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders Jon Gruden, and Head Coach of the Denver Broncos Vic Fangio have all been fined $100,000 each for improper mask use. 

“I’m doing my best. I’m very sensitive about it,” Gruden said about his breaking of the mask rules in a Sept. 21 postgame interview, as reported by USA Today. “I apologize. If I get fined, I will have to pay the fine.” 

An NFL memo from Oct. 1 also outlined new health protocols. These new guidelines include the following: players, excluding quarterbacks, must wear gloves at all times; no more than 10 players can use the weight rooms at a time; and all players and individuals on the playing field must receive negative results on a daily point-of-care test, which actively checks for COVID-19. 

This memo was a response to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases among the Tennessee Titans. With two more positive cases reported by ESPN on Oct. 2, and then two more reported on Oct. 4, there are now six team personnel and nine players in the Titans camp that have tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 4.

Because of the outbreak, the Steelers v. Titans game scheduled for Sunday Oct. 4 has been postponed until Oct. 25.

While the National Basketball Association has kept its players in a geographical “bubble” to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the NFL has no such restrictions on players traveling. 

There has been concern that NFL players do not have enough job security to opt out of games if they feel unsafe. 

In 2017, a study by Harvard’s law school and bioethics programs compared the NBA to the NFL in terms of pay security, finding that while 93.7% of NBA player compensation was ensured, that number was only 44% for NFL players. If football players want to abstain from the season for health reasons, they risk their pay and career. 

Even when NFL players receive lucrative contracts, they can be cut from their team before their contract is complete — this means that for these players, opting out of a few games may mean losing their job entirely. 

In the world of college football, however, there is still debate over whether the fall sport should be cancelled. Despite this, the season is going forward as scheduled with few cancellations. 

“Opinions vary regarding the best path forward, as we’ve seen throughout higher education and our society overall,” Bob Burda, a representative for the “Big 12” colleges, told USA Today in mid-August. 

“[Our board] will be engaging with doctors and specialists on an ongoing basis to ensure we have the latest information to help inform our decision going forward,” he said. 

CBS Sports has reported that several college football conferences have announced that they will now facilitate daily testing. 

Additionally, any player on any team that tests positive will be quarantined for two weeks before that player and team returns to the football field, and masks will be required at all games and practices. 

For now, these guidelines are football players’ only defense against COVID-19, and it remains to be seen whether they will be effective long-term. 

In the meantime, the NFL and college football conferences will continue their seasons at the risk of endangering their most important participants: the players themselves.

Featured Photo caption: With football season underway, both NFL and college teams alike are constructing a new game plan on how to play, and how to stay safe, during a pandemic. Photo Courtesy of Dave Adamson.

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