August 12, 2020
NFL Doc Says Expect Positive Cases
The NBA, NHL, and MLB are already back to living competition, without fans, but they’re playing. Some players and teams have had to stop or temporarily step away due to COVID-19 infections, however, play continues. This puts an even brighter spotlight on the NFL, which recently began training camp and has plans to begin playing live games in the coming weeks.
One of the protocols put in place is daily player testing, a process that created a bit of a sports PR dustup recently when Lions QB Matthew Stafford got hit with a false-positive test. This led to a significant media response after Stafford and his wife loudly protested the test results, arguing that Stafford had recently tested negative and had not been in contact with anyone who may have infected him. The NFL retested Stafford, subsequently declaring him healthy and ready to play.
But that particular vignette brought into focus how the league is handling testing, as well as comments from the NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, who said: “We have to expect positive cases… No matter how careful we try to be and how many protocols we have in place, we know that this disease remains endemic in our societies and communities, and it’s highly contagious.”
That, of course, is a foregone conclusion, as more than 80 players are already on the NFL COVID-19 list with full-contact training camp set for August 17. Questions regarding protocols if and when other players contract the virus are being asked, and teams are doing their best to find an answer that works for the most players, coaches, and staff.
Another concern for the league is who will play this season. Sports media is reporting that “dozens” of players have already opted out of the season altogether. To all this, Sills says the league is “going to have to try to learn to live with this virus in a sense… because we don’t think it’s going away anytime soon…”
Sills focused on the physical nature of the game in discussing the likelihood of infection. “The three hours of game time represents a small fraction of the overall week of the team being together… How we address that is trying to make sure that everyone who gets to the field is not infected… We do that through all the protocols we have in place, as well as the very extensive testing program to detect any new cases as quickly as we can… Part of how we mitigate risk on the field is arriving to the field uninfected…”
Convincing players who are on the fence, as well as employees and other team personnel may take some reminding, and it may take a very public miscue, such as what the MLB’s Miami Marlins are facing right now. Sills hopes to avoid that level of infection on any team, much less spreading that way to other teams. What’s clear, though, is that, in addition to a strong and detailed prevention plan, the NFL will need to sell that plan with a well-developed communication strategy.