The return of professional sports has had many twists, turns, stops, and restarts. And each league has come up with its own solutions trying to play competitive games while keeping players and staff relatively safe. Football has been likely the biggest challenge with the size of the teams and the nature of the sport – there’s contact and it’s often face-to-face. Moreover, it is the only league not using a bubble to keep players and staff isolated. It should be commended for conducting 370,000 tests between Aug. 1 and Oct. 3, which led to just 84 positive cases.
But, no one was particularly surprised when the Tennessee Titans recorded the first severe outbreak of the season after the league’s third week. What is surprising is that there seems to be evidence that players and staff were breaking safety protocols, which likely led to an outbreak of positive tests.
Goodell issues warning
Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a warning to all 32 teams the day after the Oct. 4 Titans-Pittsburgh match-up was postponed to Oct. 25 because of COVID. His message to the Titans and others was clear:
Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.”
Areas of concern for the Titans include:
- Reports of Titans players practicing independently at a local high school after the league told them to stop all football activities.
- There were several pictures of unsafe conditions in the team’s cafeteria.
- The league is also looking at seating charts on buses and airplanes.
Tennessee continues to have players test positive for a total of 23 cases (between Sept. 29 and Oct. 8) with 21 returning. The Titans could not return to their training facility for a week after the league postponed their game – the team needs two days of negative tests before it can resume.
Is it enough?
The NFL is taking the right approach by working with doctors and scientists to determine the right course of action. However, Goodell may have to start announcing forfeits, penalties and fines for players and teams in violation. The question remains whether the penalties will be enough. Players claim that they don’t want to let each other and their fans down, but actions will speak louder than words.