What in the Covid is Going on: The NFL

Photo Via: Sporting News

Professional sports leagues are being ravished with covid issues — This is Part I of a two part series

Stop me if you have heard this before, covid is running rampant throughout sports leagues. If it sounds familiar, you are right. It seems like the sports world came to a halt just yesterday and covid vaccinations would be an end to outbreaks. However, with the new omicron variant proving to be as contagious as ever, leagues have made necessary rollbacks on restrictions to ensure games can continue to be played.

With that, we are going to investigate the three major sports leagues and the various covid issues occurring in them as this time in this two-part series.

The National Football League

Due to the recent covid outbreak, the NFL had no choice but to act swiftly and strictly, releasing a new covid protocol on December 16th. The NFL, along with the Players Association agreed to implement changes effective immediately that will remain in place through the end of week 15 games.[1]

The changes include: (i) meetings; (ii) indoor masking; (iii) weight rooms; (iv) meal rooms; (v) team travel; (vi) extracurricular activities; and (vii) new ‘testing-out’ protocol.

Before getting into the specific changes, it is necessary to understand the three NFL “Tiers.”

Tier 1: consists of players, coaches, trainers, physicians, and necessary personnel who must have direct access to the players.

Tier 2: consist of general managers, football operations employees, other assistant coaches, video personnel, security and other essential personnel who may need to be near the Tier 1 individuals and need to access restricted areas.

Important note: Restricted access areas are only for Tiers 1 and 2 individuals. Additionally, there will be limits on the number of individuals from each team that can be assigned Tier 1 and Tier 2 access.

Tier 3: consist of operational personnel, in-house media and broadcast personnel, field manager, transportation providers and individuals who perform essential facility, stadium or event services but do not require close contact with Tier 1 individuals. All others who are not in close contact with any tier members do not require such restrictions.  

I. Meetings

In-person meetings for Tier 1 and 2 members are prohibited unless held under appropriate conditions such as outdoors or in a practice bubble. However social distance guidelines must be followed. All other meetings shall be held virtually.

II. Indoor Masking

Everyone must always wear a mask when indoors (including while working out) — regardless of vaccination status. Masks are not required outdoors, including practices.

III. Weight Rooms

There is a 15 player maximum in a single weight room at one time — regardless of vaccination status.

IV. Meal Rooms

Nobody is permitted to eat together — regardless of vaccination status. Meals will either be ‘to-go’ or tables will be separated by 10 feet, one person per table.

V. Team Travel

All Tiered members (in an away city) will be prohibited from hosting visitors at the team hotel or while dining, or for entertainment — regardless of vaccination status.

VI. Extracurricular Activities

All non-football related appearances are prohibited. There are also very strict guidelines for Tiered members commingling — no more than three persons, regardless of Tier, may gather at the same time — regardless of vaccination status. Additionally, Tier 1 and 2 personnel may not attend any indoor public spaces with more than 10 people (15 for people for private events) and must wear personal protective equipment.

VII. Testing Out

This is a rather extensive process, however in short, any fully vaccinated individual from any Tier who test positive must be tested every day after the confirmed positive test and only after being symptomatic for 24 hours and receiving two negative covid test, may an individual be released from quarantine.

Further, the protocol laid out above can be adjusted at any time.

Beyond the protocol changes, the NFL announced on December 17th, changes to the NFL week 15 schedule due to massive team outbreaks. At this juncture well over 100 NFL players have tested positive for covid this past week.

Three games have now been postponed because of recent extreme team outbreaks. The Raiders-Browns game, initially scheduled for Saturday, is moved to Monday. Further, two games that were set for Sunday — the Washington-Eagles and the Seahawks-Rams— will be played on Tuesday.

These three games are specifically being moved because of the impact covid is having on the Browns, Washington, and Rams — all with 20 plus players out due to covid.

Prior to the NFL announcing the reschedule games, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was especially upset, tweeting his outrage towards the NFL, saying, “[m]ake up your damn mind on protocols,” Mayfield said, “[s]howing up and making only 3 teams test?!? All so you can keep the game as scheduled to make money.” He further added, “[a]ctually caring about player safety would mean delaying the game with this continuing at the rate it is . . . But to say you won’t test vaccinated players if they don’t have symptoms, then to pull this randomly. Doesn’t make any sense to me.”[2]

The anger seemed to stem from the league allowing teams to practice and intermingle and thereafter testing them after practice — seemingly allowing the Browns covid issue to spread rampant.

All in all, good on the NFL for postponing the games and allowing teams — especially with all teams involved jockeying for playoff position — to get as healthy as possible. I am sure all NFL fans will be happy to have games played for four straight days.

[1] https://static.www.nfl.com/image/upload/league/aerstio9rirjxhifrohi.pdf

[2] https://twitter.com/bakermayfield/status/1471606889612034065

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