The basketball, hockey and soccer bubbles were highly successful this summer — but football has been an entirely different story.
In an attempts to keep the season flowing smoothly, the National Football League (NFL) is putting the health of its players and staff at risk. They must find a better way to manage the pandemic before it gets completely out of hand.
The league has had two major COVID-19 outbreaks so far: the Tennessee Titans with 24 positive tests over the last two weeks, and the New England Patriots with four over the past week. The Titans had their Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers postponed, and the Patriots’ Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos has been pushed back a week.
While the NFL can’t prevent positive tests, they can prevent the virus from spreading out of control. However, both teams have now played games just two days after a player or staff member has tested positive. According to research from health organizations in several countries, two days after exposure is not enough time to accurately detect COVID-19 on a test. On average, the incubation period for COVID-19 is over five days.
Making teams play so soon after having positive tests in the organization is, frankly, a complete mismanagement of the pandemic. It is obviously difficult to keep rescheduling games, but the safety of the players and staff should always take priority.
Players are understandably upset, and some have spoken out to criticize the NFL for how they have handled the pandemic. Jason McCourty, a defensive back for the Patriots, gave a press conference about the team’s frustration with having to play a game only two days after their quarterback, Cam Newton, tested positive for COVID-19.
"For [the NFL], it is not about our best interest, or our health and safety, it is about, 'What can we make protocol-wise that sounds good, looks good, and how can we go out there and play games?'” said McCourty.
As a Patriots fan, it’s irritating to see how the league would put the health of the players I look up to, who represent my city, in danger just so they can fit in a game. There have already been additional players who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the Patriots’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs last Monday, and that number could keep growing.
If the NFL continues to hold games so quickly after an organization has had positive tests, there will very likely be more outbreaks in the coming weeks. The Titans played the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday night after a staff member tested positive just two days earlier, so clearly the league still isn’t factoring in incubation time when making these decisions.
I understand that there’s not an easy answer—the success of the bubble tournaments for the National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) would be practically impossible to replicate given how much larger NFL organizations are—but if the NFL can’t find a way to keep its players and staff safe, then there shouldn’t be a season at all.
One solution could be staggering games, with each team only playing every other week. The season may have to be shortened, but this would allow for enough time to prevent positive cases from becoming outbreaks.
We should expect more serious COVID-19 outbreaks as the season progresses unless the NFL makes some major adjustments to their management of the pandemic. Whether intentional or not, the league is prioritizing profit over the safety of its players — and if that doesn’t change, it could mean a premature end to the season.
This is the opinion of Ellie Kinney, a junior communication studies major from Boston, Massachusetts. Tweet comments to @emkinney4 or email comments to email@example.com.