With the first Sunday of September under our belts, the silence of the stands at NFL stadiums should have come to an end weeks ago with the beginning of the preseason in August. However, the NFL’s executive board and players association collectively decided to forgo the preseason in favor of keeping players safe due to COVID-19.
The intense nature of the sport of football and consistent close interaction between players increases the likelihood of spreading the virus should a member of the team, player or staff, have contracted the virus. The league has been consistently testing its players throughout the summer since the beginning of training camps in May. As of Aug. 7, it has bumped up testing procedures to better identify active cases around the league, rather than “false-positive” results where a player or league employee tests positive but doesn’t show symptoms of the virus. These individuals are then required to receive two more tests within a 24-hour period from the initial positive result, and will not be cleared to return to normal activities unless both follow-up tests come back as negative. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was a key name added to the league’s COVID-19 reserve list for a positive test on Aug. 6, but following three additional tests and consequent negative results, he was swiftly removed from the reserve list, prompting the league to tweak its policies toward COVID-19 screening.
The league continues to ensure that all team members and staff are wearing masks any time they are inside team facilities, with face shields no longer being an acceptable substitute. Questions have arisen from players and fans alike regarding the idea of modifying helmets to prevent the spreading of the virus, but have seen little for a response from the league. The big four helmet producers for the league: Xenith, VICIS, Schutt and Riddell, haven’t had enough time to design, test and certify helmets with built-in COVID-19 protection devices that would also properly protect players from the collisions they endure on a regular basis.
Without proper capabilities to protect players from catching the virus in an airborne state, the league has additionally established its own set of rules and mandates for fans that wish to be in attendance at games when the season begins. Masks will be required to enter the stadium and must be kept on at all times, regardless of whether or not there is already a local mask ordinance.
Certain teams, such as the New York Giants and New York Jets, won’t have any fans in attendance until the 2021 season, as an executive order put in place by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy put a cap for attendance of any large events, including NFL games, at 500 people.
Both the Giants and Jets released statements backing the decision by Murphy, stating that keeping fans out of Metlife Stadium is the best move for the densely populated state of New Jersey, showing the clear unity amongst teams, their players, and the regions they play in.
Other teams, such as the Atlanta Falcons, are allowing fans to attend games in a limited capacity. Although the Mercedes-Benz Stadium can hold 71,000 people in its stands, the Falcons have placed the highest fan capacity at 20,000 people in order to stay compliant with social distancing regulations.
The social distancing actions taken by the league, as opposed to an entire ban on fan attendance by the NBA and NHL, are in an effort to continue to make football engaging and entertaining for fans and to continue to bring revenue into stadiums. The league has acknowledged that if a game is cited as the origin of an outbreak, they will likely be shifting to entirely empty stadiums during the remainder of the regular season and into the postseason. Regardless, sports fans are just happy to have their fall classic back in action, kicking off with the Houston Texans visiting the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, Sept. 10 in an excellent showdown between two of the league’s brightest young stars in quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.