Sorry, football players. Your 2020 isn’t going to be much fun.
Want to sit down for dinner inside a restaurant? I wouldn’t. Thinking about having some friends over for a party? Bad idea. Planning on going to a bar with some teammates to blow off some steam? Please don’t.
You might be the source of a COVID-19 outbreak in your team facility if you do.
This isn’t a hypothetical scenario borne from some sort of mass hysteria. It’s something that happened in American professional sports this week.
The Orlando Pride (home to the USWNT's Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris and Emily Sonnett, as well as Brazilian superstar Marta) were forced to drop out of the NWSL’s Challenge Cup after multiple players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The Pride’s outbreak, the Athletic reported, likely materialized because few players went to a bar in Orlando.
That night out prompted additional testing, which revealed the team’s first case of COVID-19. Ultimately, six players and four staff tested positive for the virus.
And a professional sports team had to drop out of a competition because of it.
I’m heartbroken. The majority of our team & staff worked our asses off to put us in the best position to play the game we love again. Not just for ourselves but for our families, friends, fans & our city. Good luck to the teams going to UT. Wish we were there with you. Stay safe.— Sydney Leroux Dwyer (@sydneyleroux) June 22, 2020
It’d be ignorant and foolish to think this couldn’t happen to an NFL team. No one is invincible with this virus for which there is no treatment, cure or vaccine. All it takes is one selfish decision for others to become infected.
And beyond the scary health complications that come with COVID-19 – which can affect anyone, even the most in-shape football player – an outbreak in an NFL facility could decimate a position group, a coaching staff, or even an entire team.
Could it be to the point where a team couldn’t play any of its tight ends because they all were exposed to COVID-19? Absolutely. Could it be so bad to where a team can’t play a scheduled game because it doesn’t have enough players to field? You can’t rule it out.
You just can’t.
It’s impossible for the NFL to create 32 “bubbles” across the country to isolate players, coaches and essential staff for at least six months starting in late July. Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested the bubble may be the only way the NFL plays in 2020; the league, though, seems fully focused on playing a full season amid the pandemic this fall.
In the absence of a true bubble, though, there has to be a great deal of trust existing among the essential men and women who would’ve been in it. That means players, coaches and support staff all have to be on the same page when it comes to coronavirus precautions both in and outside the facility. It’s hard to get 100 people to agree on anything, but without restrictive bubbles, every NFL team is going to have to figure out a way to foster necessary groupthink.
Otherwise, the 2020 NFL season will be a competitive disaster at best, and at worst, an irresponsible venture for the health and safety of everyone involved.
All it takes is one person to break that trust and ruin it for everyone. It happened with the Orlando Pride. It could happen in the NFL, too.