The NFL is ignoring their growing coronavirus problem

Ryder Martin, Assistant Sports Editor

It took four weeks, but the National Football League has finally experienced its first major outbreak of COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, 23 members of the Tennessee Titans, consisting of both players and team personnel, have tested positive for the virus. As a result, the Titans’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week was postponed and then rescheduled, and their upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills is unlikely to be played.
Around the rest of the league, situations are just as concerning even though no team has reached the number of positive cases the Titans have. There are still concerning situations developing. The New England Patriots are currently dealing with three positive cases, including quarterback Cam Newton and reigning defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore. Newton tested positive prior to the Patriots’ game last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the NFL only delayed the game from Sunday to Monday, and it went on as scheduled.
This is where it gets worse: Gilmore participated in the game against the Chiefs and was seen after the game embracing Chiefs franchise quarterback and face of the NFL Patrick Mahomes. Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19 three days later. For the NFL, this is a nightmare scenario, as the player who is expected to represent the NFL and serve as their most marketable star has been potentially exposed to a deadly and highly transmissible virus.
Although no other team has confirmed multiple cases, there have been reported infections among the Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons and Las Vegas Raiders over the past two weeks. As demonstrated by the Titans, however, the situation can spiral rapidly out of control. What begins as one case can easily become two, which can quickly become five, and so on exponentially. The worst part in all of this is that it is only going to get worse.
The NFL’s decision to allow games to proceed after a member of a team tests positive is dangerous and is only going to set them up for failure. Most scientific research indicates COVID-19 has an incubation period of two to 14 days and is transmissible before the onset of symptoms. There is a very real danger of transmission before detection, so the NFL’s official position of clearing teams for action, as they did with the Patriots, in the absence of any immediate positive tests following a confirmed first case, is reckless and prioritizes the profits generated by playing these games over the health and safety of the players. If it can happen to the Titans, it can happen to anyone. This virus is stealthy and efficient, and as the Titans have demonstrated, a large portion of a team may become infected before the first positive case is even detected. This may be the first COVID-19 outbreak in the NFL, but it will certainly not be the last, especially with the NFL’s refusal to change some of their core procedures.
The NFL should have seen this coming. The college football season has been plagued with COVID-19 cases that have spread out of control in rapid fashion. The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish had seven players test positive before their week-three game against the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons and shut down all football activities, but that number then ballooned to 18 positive tests the following week. The University of Memphis Tigers have similarly dealt with an outbreak that significantly altered the course of their season, including a canceled game against our very own Roadrunners. These are just a few examples affecting the college football season thus far.
This issue didn’t start at the beginning of the season and stabilize. Instead, more teams are continuing to deal with these issues every week. When positive tests were occurring in the offseason, such as some of the early NFL cases or even the ‘Runners’ three positive cases over the summer, it was easier to contain. In the midst of a season, however? There is no putting the genie back in the lamp. Nothing the NFL has done in recent days will help guard against another virus outbreak. Fans should be ready — this is the first major COVID-19 roadblock for the NFL, but it will not be the last.