NFL New Normal, Part 2: Will we see Professional Football in 2020?

Dr.C

Professional Football is in danger because of COVID-19. If so, will the New Orleans Saints start and finish the 2020 NFL season as scheduled?  

The NFL continues to move forward with plans to open training camps as scheduled, but the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount the sports world with more concern looming. New Orleans Saints’ veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins is no longer silent on matters swirling but is one of the first Saints players to voice concern for safety. As cases mount in the NFL and NBA, players express a greater need for reassurance of safety before returning to play. 

New Orleans Saints Helmets
Aug 18, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; A general view of New Orleans Saints helmets against the Los Angeles Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit Jake Roth

The league has announced the return of professional football even after a recent surge in the coronavirus pandemic. Almost half of the United States is experiencing an increase in the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. From coast to coast, the nation is reopening local economies, and hospitals are noticing steeper spikes in COVID-19 cases. Here is the pressing question - can the National Football League open the 2020 NFL Season and complete it through Superbowl LV without COVID-19 shutting down operations? Dr. Charlotte Baker thinks even if the league starts the season, she doubts they will finish.   

Dr. Baker is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Virginia Tech University and her doubts stem from the early uptick in the second wave of COVID-19 reported U.S. cases.

"I think it’s not because of the NFL,” Baker explained. “I think it’s because of the number of cases we will see with the uptick in the United States."

“We were expecting a second wave to start in October, November. But with things going the way they are, this wave we’re in right now may not end. So, you’re talking about a long-term consequence of what could happen if we don’t, as a country, get everything under control.”

The veteran safety, Malcolm Jenkins, admitted he would not be comfortable playing NFL games during the pandemic if the risk is not mitigated. Jenkins described football as a “nonessential business” on CNN, which hired him last week.

Many compare the NFL to the NBA as they resume the season in a protective bubble in Orlando, Florida, on Disney property. Jenkins objected to a similar move because the NFL sports roster is substantially larger than the NBA’s.  

“The NBA is a lot different from the NFL,” he said, “because they can quarantine all of their players, or whoever will participate.   We have over 2,000 players, and even more coaches and staff. We can’t do that.”

“And I think until we get to where we have protocols in place, and until we get to a place as a country where we feel safe doing it, we understand that football is a nonessential business. So we don’t need to do it. And so the risk has to be really eliminated before we — before I — would feel comfortable going back.”

The NFL and the NFLPA continue their discussion on establishing acceptable protocols for handling COVID-19 this season. The organizations have even sent preliminary procedures for teams' training camps, including safety process, starting dates, and length of the preseason. However, many questions continue to linger.

Dr. Anthony Fauci was one expert comparing the NFL’s return to the NBA’s. On Thursday, the Director of NIAID favored an "NFL bubble format" for 2020, like the NBA and MLS. If the NFL was not willing to engage in an isolated environment to play, Fauci felt strongly that the league should not play at all. Dr. Fauci’s view later changed to uncertainty after being met with criticism from sports experts and President Trump.

March 19, 2020; New York, NY, USA; A man walks below announced news that a New Orleans Saints coach, Sean Payton, tested positive for coronavirus. Thursday, March 19 2020 Mandatory Credit Kevin Wexler
March 19, 2020: New York, NY, USA: A man walks below announced the news that a New Orleans Saints coach, Sean Payton tested positive for coronavirus.  Mandatory Credit Kevin Wexler

The uncertainty of the coronavirus is very unsettling for Malcolm Jenkins as well. He clarified his CNN interview statements on social media. “To be clear, I want to play football. I think all my peers want to play football. It’s how we make a living. But there’s so much that we don’t know right now and what we look at, what’s happening in the country, cases are going up, deaths are going up."

The NFL continues laying out guidelines for the reopening of team facilities, amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic while the CDC is forecasting 135,461 U.S. deaths by July 11, 2020. 

The New Orleans Saints are not returning to their Metairie headquarters just yet. Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen explained the Saints would wait. During Saints’ conference call with the media, Allen confirmed that Head Coach Sean Payton told his staff they would wait for a return time for training camp this summer.

The New Orleans Saints continue to press forward to start the season as they re-access seating arrangements in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. The unveiled plan was via video conference.  They proposed the details for using the rows of seating closest to NFL owners.   The proposed plan would reserve rows of seating closest to the field for sponsor logos. 

The start of the season is approaching. There are so many questions, but so few answers. More uncertainty than details persist.  Will the Saints kickoff on Friday, August 14, 2020, against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA?  We shall see.  Many tickets are available. The game is scheduled at 9 PM CST/10 PM EST on the NFL Network.

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