Scott Stinson: The National Football League is trying to push past COVID-19. It isn't working

As proof of the problem one only needs to glance at the White House, another place that wanted to just power past the virus and which has been racking up positive tests

Article content

The moment when the National Football League started to go off the rails came on Monday, when the New England Patriots flew to Kansas City.

Up until then, the league had done a surprisingly decent job of getting through the early part of its season, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It had avoided group activities in the summer, scrapped pre-season games, and implemented a thorough testing regime to try to catch outbreaks before they happened. Despite taking the risky step of playing games outside a virtual bubble, the NFL had gone a step farther than Major League Baseball had early in its season, specifically requiring players and staff to stay home when they weren’t on team business. The players agreed, in a revised CBA, to steer clear of the Champagne rooms.

And when all of that still didn’t work and the Tennessee Titans had an outbreak among players and staff, the NFL was still able to juggle bye weeks, postpone a single game, and allow itself the possibility of getting through a 17-week season without a raft of COVID-related postponements that would cause the whole thing to collapse like a Cincinnati Bengals pocket.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

When word came late last week that Patriots quarterback Cam Newton had tested positive for the virus, suddenly fingers were poised over the panic button. Would the NFL have to push another game out of the Week 4 schedule? Would it try to move it closer to mid-week, and have cascading issues with the following games to be played by the Pats and Chiefs, their Week 4 opponent? Would it add extra weeks to the schedule to allow for COVID postponements? The NFL opted for another solution: power through it.

This became all too evident on Monday, when the Patriots left for Kansas City —?the game had been postponed by just one day — on two separate planes. On one would be the players and staff, 20 of them in total, who had been in close contact with Newton. On the other would be everyone else. The idea was that because negative tests were no guarantee that Newton hadn’t infected those he had been in close contact with, they would keep all those people together so that no one else would be potentially exposed. On Wednesday came news that one of the passengers on COVID Air, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, had tested positive. He might have contracted the virus from Newton. He might have gotten it from someone else who has yet to show a positive result. He might well have been infectious when the Patriots played the Chiefs on Monday night, and when he met them at midfield for post-game hugs and handshakes. You know, those things we have all being trying to avoid doing for months now.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

More On This Topic

The two-planes strategy deployed by the Pats and the NFL was the exact wrong thing to do, and it exposed that, fundamentally, the league was not ready to accept the kind of virus-prevention strategies that public-health experts advise. Once Newton tested positive, then all of his close contacts — all those who were potentially exposed — ought to have been isolated. And not for a short time, either.

Major League Baseball, as it happened, already found out what follows when it tried to push right past positive tests and hope for the best. Its original plan was to simply remove infected players from the roster and supplement them with other guys — thus the taxi squads and alternate training sites used this brief season — while allowing the schedule to proceed as planned. But it quickly found out that negative tests didn’t mean players and staff were in the clear after someone else in their orbit had the virus; positive tests routinely followed negative results once there had been an exposure. MLB started postponing games all over the place, tightened its prevention measures, and eventually squished in 7-inning doubleheaders to make up most of the lost games.

The NFL doesn’t have that kind of wiggle room. If it observed 14-day isolation periods for everyone who was exposed to a positive contact, that kind of timeline would completely throw an NFL schedule off kilter, given that games have to be properly spaced out to allow rest and recovery. There are no doubleheaders in football. And so, you have what happened with the Patriots: they went ahead and played anyway, and hoped for the best.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore is one of the NFL players who has tested positive in the last few days. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/File

Almost on cue, more bad COVID news hit the league on Wednesday. The Titans have two more positive results after two all-negative days, putting their scheduled game with Buffalo on Sunday in doubt and making their season uncertain, given that they already used up their bye week with last Sunday’s postponement. The Las Vegas Raiders also have a new positive result, putting them in the same position that the Patriots had with Newton. The Raiders could have clean results from now until Sunday, and it wouldn’t mean that another one of those players hasn’t already contracted the virus. As proof of that problem one only needs to glance at the White House, another place that wanted to just power past the virus and which has been racking up positive tests day after day after an initial exposure that took place sometime around the last weekend of September. Many of those who have tested positive recently had multiple negative results before doing so.

The uncomfortable reality for the NFL is that, unless it is willing to implement the kinds of isolation guidelines that would truly minimize the risk of COVID spread in a team setting, it is going to need all kinds of luck to skate through an interrupted season. Unless that luck has already run out.

? Email: sstinson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

琪琪影院-电影大全 - 高清在线观看 - 海量高清视频免费在线观看