Certainly the current situation with the coronavirus has changed almost every aspect of everyday life. Schools are closed as are day care centers. All food establishments are drive-thru or take out only. Many counties and cities are shutting down for weeks (if not months) as folks are encouraged to remain home.
In the history of mankind, there has never been a worldwide pandemic.
Of course, the power bill, mortgage and other bills will remain on their 30-day cycles. And food is still currently being consumed daily. Not everybody can work from home. Social distancing, physical distancing, curfews, and just a general opinion to simply stop any interaction with other people is the new norm. In today’s environment, people are the enemy.
The big question looms every day: when will things go back to normal? The Black Plague peaked in Europe and killed over 75 million people from 1347-1351. The Swine Flu in 2009 affected 700 million of which 18,000 died. The Spanish Flu affected 500 million from 1918 to 1920 and resulted in 17 million deaths. In 1861 a bout of Scarlet Fever spread into other towns and cites quickly before it was discovered what the virus actually was and how to confine the affects of the disease.
When will restaurants open back up? What is the prediction for movie theaters to re-open? How much longer will students remain home bound? When will sports leagues get back up and running?
Which brings us to the NFL. Currently, coaches and scouts are doing their due-diligence from their own homes. The free agency period is still going on, and April 23-25 is the college draft so the league and each team’s employees are in full swing.
But if you can’t bring in a draft pick for a physical, how can you sign him? How can coaches make evaluations without getting together physically? When can players start to have mini-practice sessions?
And now, something new. The league may not even play in 2020.
The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, is saying that do not presume that the upcoming season may even happen. According to a story in the New York Times, Dr. Sills explained there are quite a few issues that must be itemized line-by-line before the league can even think about returning to the business of professional football.
“We have got to get a much better handle on the actual spread of this virus and how many new cases there are,” Sills explains. “How it is transmitted and how we can mitigate it. We have to get to the point that when someone is tested as positive to the virus, that does not mean an immediate quarantine. If that is the case, you can’t think about opening up a team sport.”
Dr. Sills stated it is not just as simple as having players come back into the fold and begin practicing, selling tickets, stocking concession stands and hiring stadium employees in order to begin the season.
“Like all other parts of society, we’re trying to listen to the best advice we can. It’s hard to project what will happen in a month, three months or six months No one knows. We have to do that which is not only in the best interest of the players, but league and team personnel and our fans. That is what is happening. All of our league executives have been in very regular contact with me. Every meeting starts with an update on the current medical situation.”
The NFL’s stance at this point is that as long as folks are still being tested for coronavirus and the impeding quarantines that follow, the league is certain that they cannot begin to imagine beginning the opening stages for the 2020 season.
“That’s not only about this disease but around mental health; we recognize this is a big stress for everyone. Imagine if someone had a preexisting condition that cannot be treated. These are incredibly difficult times for people with those challenges. We have a lot of resources in these areas. Follow the recommendations from public health officials and infectious disease experts. We all must do that.”
Dr. Sills is a professor of neurological surgery, orthopedic surgery and the founder of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center. Plus, he is in charge for the NFL’s response to the pandemic. He points out that point of care testing must be put into place first before players and coaches can begin to report to their facilities. And the testing must be able to offer fast results.
Sills said he is confident that the testing process will eventually become available. But for now, he also realizes that coaches want their players in place in order to get ready for the upcoming season.
“I have had regular calls with members of our medical staff and trainers and coaches and front office personnel. A lot of dialogue and questions back and forth. It is a situation where we and the players association are working hand-in-hand to make sure we are serving our whole NFL environment as best we can.”
In addition to the draft, the league must also set up on how off-season workouts will be put into place - if at all - and then the status of mini-camps as well as training camp. Currently, everyone involved with every club is temporarily banned from using their team’s facilities as well as meeting agents and players in person.
The NFL has full vision that the 2020 season will be played in its entirely. But will this year be played in vacant stadiums? Will the league play a full season or just a partial offering?
At this point, the problem with bringing back sporting events in a public setting is that the virus is currently not under control and remains a spreadable trouble for everyone.
And until that is no longer an issue, public events such as the NFL, are in danger of being shelved.