Leagues across the world halted play in March over safety concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the NFL season rapidly approaching, many are wondering how it will be impacted. The on time last week, with no delays.
Football is a contact sport, meaning the spread of the virus is more likely to happen on the gridiron than say, in a
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes for Health since 1984, has been on the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic and said there are many variables when it comes to football and the virus. During an interview with NBC Sports, Fauci pointed out how complex the situation really is.
The NFL regular season is set to begin on September 10, when the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans. Fauci said there'd be no way to carry out an NFL season right now, in the middle of May, but that if the situation improves by September, there could be football:
"I say you can't have a season—it's impossible. There's too much infection out there. It doesn't matter what you do. But I would hope that by the time you get to September it's not gonna be the way it is right now."
Ultimately, "the virus will make the decision for us," Fauci said.
He explained that the virus wouldn't necessarily spread through sweat, but if an NFL player was on the field and was positive for coronavirus, everyone would be at a high risk. Facui then presented a scenario as an example to show how quickly the virus could spread during a game:
"The problem with virus shedding is that if I have it in my nasopharynx, and it sheds and I wipe my hand against my nose -- now it's on my hand. You see, then I touch my chest or my thigh, then it's on my chest or my thigh for at least a few hours. But if people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that's the perfect setup for spreading. I would think that if there is an infected football player on the field ... as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person."
When asked about testing players, Fauci noted that an outbreak among a team would lead to a minimum 14 days of quarantine, which would not allow the team to participate in the next two games, pending a bye.
In that case, would the NFL postpone or cancel the games? Would teams have to forfeit? Teams would also have to agree to their star player being quarantined if a test came back positive, something that could seriously alter a squad's season.
Clearly, the NFL has its work cut out on how to plan around all of these potential circumstances.
The news is not all bad, though. Fauci said there is a world where fans could even attend games next season -- as long the virus dies down enough, which is no guarantee.
"I think it's feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium. Is it guaranteed? No way... There will be virus out there and you will know your players are negative at the time they step onto the field," he said. "Also, if the virus is so low that even in the general community the risk is low, then I could see filling a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people could be six feet apart."
Fauci emphasized that this will all depend on where the country is come September, and what the risks are for the players, coaches, personnel and general public.
As far as the NFL ultimately starting on time, Facui said that "will be entirely dependent on the effectiveness with which we as a society respond to the inevitable outbreak that will occur in the fall."