Like it or not, the NFL has a COVID-19 problem on its hands.
Dozens of players and staff members across the league have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the season began Sept. 10. But cases have been spiking in recent weeks, including multiple positive tests on teams like the Tennesse Titans and New England Patriots.
Just how bad has it gotten? In the last 24 hours, six different teams have reported at least one positive COVID-19 test, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Yeah, that’s definitely not ideal.
Some might say it’s is to be expected. But after seven months, the NFL’s approach to the pandemic still isn’t adequate by any means.
After all, the league had five months to observe other professional sports leagues and their approach to the pandemic.
Major League Baseball, as you likely remember, had a bit of a coronavirus scare early into its abbreviated 2020 season after numerous members of the Miami Marlins returned positive tests. By the end of the outbreak, 18 players and two coaches had tested positive for COVID-19.
Leagues like the NBA, WNBA, MLS and NHL, had far fewer issues with the virus. And they likely have their bubble environments and strict testing protocols to thank for that.
But, what did the NFL learn? Apparently, not much.
The NFL wasn’t planning to test players long term, but recent events had led the league to extend its testing protocols.
What’s worse, the league still is opposed to the idea of a bubble. And while many (including NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills) find the idea unrealistic, it might be the only way the league can promise all players and staff the healthiest environment possible while doing their jobs.
Some teams haven’t been keen on following the rules, either. (We’re looking at you, Las Vegas Raiders.)
The Raiders have been one of the biggest offenders of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. The team has been punished numerous times for violating the league’s new health and safety rules, even threatening to take away a draft pick should they continue to not comply. (And boy, did that stop Las Vegas right in its tracks.)
To their credit, the NFL recently expanded its COVID-19 policies to accommodate the growing number of cases across the league. But is it a little too late?
Sure, it’s only Week 6 of the season. But no other professional sports league in the United States, not even MLB, has seen this many teams return positive COVID-19 tests in this kind of time period. It’s uncalled for, unnecessary and unrealistic for athletes of any age to comfortably compete without stricter guidelines.
There certainly will be fans willing and ready to risk their own health and well-being to simply watch a game. But does that mean teams should continue as scheduled? The league might think so, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t serious risks to playing amid a pandemic as serious as this.
Will the NFL pull its act together, though? Only time will tell.