The National Football League has handled COVID-19 worse than any other professional sports league in America.
Since the NFL began its COVID-19 testing on Aug. 1, the league has seen 117 positive tests among players and personnel. No other major sports league saw a number that high in a similar time frame. The NFL had one advantage in preparing for a season amid COVID-19 — time.
The NFL had time to see how the NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLS and MLB dealt with COVID-19. The NBA, WNBA and NHL resorted to the bubble method where players and personnel stayed in the same restricted area to ensure safety. The NFL also saw the MLB operate with no bubble and no fan attendance for a majority of its 60-game regular season. For the NFL, the plan was clear: play the season with no bubble and no fan attendance. It worked for a 60-game MLB season, so it should work for a 16-game NFL season, right?
The NFL has shown that it, in fact, did not have a plan. It may have had a plan on how to go about testing players and personnel, but they had no plan for when things got serious.
At the beginning of the season, the NFL outlined their plans to combat COVID-19 for the 2020 season. The plan included things such as isolating symptomatic players, as well as COVID-19 testing and screening at team facilities. One thing that was outlined is that teams can place players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list if they test positive or come in contact with someone who has the virus or is symptomatic. The keyword in that sentence is ‘can.’ Teams have been using the Reserve/COVID-19 list in different ways. Some teams, like the Kansas City Chiefs, have used the list correctly. Other teams, like the Tennessee Titans, have only used it for players who test positive. The inconsistency with which teams use the list is one of the main reasons that I believe the NFL has handled COVID-19 worse than any other professional sports organization.
Just a few weeks ago, the Tennessee Titans had 20 COVID-19 cases in the organization. The outbreak caused a near league-wide schedule change. The Titans’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was moved from Sunday, Oct. 4 to Sunday, Oct. 25. The Titans also had their game against the Buffalo Bills moved from Sunday, Oct. 11 to Tuesday, Oct. 13. These schedule changes were done on short notice to the public and to the teams. Teams have had their bye weeks moved, games against divisional opponents rescheduled and some teams played games on limited rest.
It is clear that the NFL’s only plan going into the 2020 season was to have a season. The NBA, WNBA and NHL all sacrificed a significant portion of their revenue to ensure that players and personnel were as safe as possible, and the NFL should’ve done the same. How the NFL is handling the season with COVID-19 should be looked at more seriously. Yes, players could have opted out if they felt unsafe playing, but most players do not have that option. Yes, the league had a plan outlining COVID-19 protocols, but there are discrepancies on how they are enforced. The NFL is putting a majority of the league at risk by playing this season. Studies by Johns Hopkins have shown that people with higher body mass index, body fat percentage and African Americans are all more susceptible to contracting COVID-19. A vast majority of the players in the NFL meet one, if not all of these criteria.
The NFL’s relaxed enforcement of COVID-19 protocols, late notice schedule changes and endangerment of high-risk individuals all for the sake of league revenue is why I believe the NFL has handled COVID-19 worse than any other professional sports league in America.