Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke Thursday morning, saying “football may not happen this year,” and the fearless world of football shuddered in reply. Our beloved national game, the antithesis of social distancing, is in trouble in 2020, leaving us with this stark question:
How many hospitalizations and deaths of players, coaches, staff, administrators, referees and fans, if they are allowed, will we accept to have our football this fall?
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN Thursday morning.
“If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
There may be no Lambeau leap in Green Bay this season as games around the league are unlikely to be played with fans in the stands. (Photo: Mike Roemer, AP)
Of course college and pro football fans flew into a rage on social media – not at COVID-19 or the way President Donald Trump has fumbled our national response to it, but at Fauci for telling the truth. People apparently want their football no matter how many have to suffer because of it.
Several hours later, the NFL chimed in to try to save the day, but ended up illustrating just how difficult it might be to sell a “football as usual” storyline this season.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, admitted that Fauci “has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches and other essential personnel.”
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He went on to say the NFL is “developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem.”
Added Sills: “Make no mistake, this is no easy task.” He said “adjustments” will be made as necessary in preparation for the 2020 season, adding “we will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
It’s crucial to add that it was just Wednesday that Sills said this: “We do not feel it’s practical or appropriate to construct a bubble.”
Sports fans love statistics, so here’s one that could be relevant:
As it plans to resume playing within the relative safety of a bubble at Disney World in Florida, the NBA issued a memo on all its health and safety protocols. It’s not a short memo. It’s 108 pages long.
And the NFL is going to pull this off without a bubble?
One important skeptic popped up not long after the Fauci and Sills duet: Los Angeles Rams Coach Sean McVay.
“We’re going to social distance, but play football?” he told reporters. “It’s really hard for me to understand all this. I don’t get it. I really don’t.”
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That’s the quote of the day in the NFL. McVay has summarized the NFL’s impending chaos better than any doctor could. He might as well be speaking for our colleges too. The University of Texas athletic department announced Thursday that 13 football players have tested positive or are presumed positive for COVID-19, while 10 more are asymptomatic and in self-quarantine. That’s on top of two positive cases that Texas reported last week.
The University of Houston football program stopped voluntary workouts last week when six players tested positive. Other schools are releasing incremental testing data as it becomes available. Drip, drip, drip.
So how does this work over the rest of the summer and into the fall? We love our football and can’t imagine life without it. Universities need it desperately for the revenue it produces. Many of the states where the college game is most important are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases, some quite dramatic.
We accept all kinds of injuries to young men so we can enjoy football every year. Will we accept their illnesses, their hospitalizations, even their deaths this season? How about the hospitalizations and deaths of coaches, team personnel and referees, especially those who are older and more susceptible to the virus?
Does football plow ahead, come what may? Will nothing stop our broad-shouldered, tough-guy sport, not even a pandemic? Will a moment of silence before every kickoff suffice?
How many moments of silence will there be before there are too many?
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