If any industry has been hit hard with one of the biggest economic uncertainties during the COVID-19 pandemic era, it is the world of sports. Major League Baseball has officially begun its season, minus the fans in the stands and with mixed results in regards to player safety. The National Basketball Association is training in a Disney World bubble in hopes of salvaging their current season. The National Football League is no different when it comes to legitimate concerns for the upcoming 2020 season.
The Players’ Association (NFLPA) and the NFL brass are engaged in a healthy and social media-lively debate about how to approach training camp, the preseason and the regular season. On July 21st, the league agreed to the players’ terms to scratch the preseason altogether, allowing more of an acclimation period in preparation for COVID-19. The Los Angeles Rams also announced that they will not have season ticket holders at the newly built SoFi Stadium. Fans with Stadium Seat Licenses (SSLs) for the 2020 season will hold them over to 2021. They are still mulling over having fans at all in the new stadium.
The Los Angeles Rams fans can agree that they would love to see their team play in their new billion-dollar, state-of-the-art arena in Inglewood. Barring any changes to the schedule, the Rams will face the Dallas Cowboys on September 13.
McVay shared on a podcast that he does not know how his players can physically distance themselves on the field. During practice, there are collisions, tackling, heavy breathing, shouting, play-calling, sweating and I will not get too into the nitty-gritty details of other things, but you get the picture. It would be impossible to distance the players during practice or games. They can separate outside of the facilities and can get continually tested. This was discussed by Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. Reid mentioned that you can keep the guys together in practice, but they must adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines outside of practice. You can only control so much. After all, people have lives outside of work. Players have families, friends and places to go. One just hopes they are all being cautious.
Those of us in workplaces where we are required to socially distance ourselves at least six feet from others, not shake hands, not hug, not touch other co-workers’ work areas or touch shared equipment know how challenging that is. I cannot imagine the difficulty in the sports world. It’s a contact sport. An athlete in any sport is facing off against an opponent even in the most minimal contact sport. Football (and maybe rugby) is the most contact-heavy sport in the world.
What can the NFL do to keep their players, coaches, staff and fans safe? You obviously cannot nasal-swab test everyone in the stadium at SoFi, but you can do temperature checks with up-to-date technology. You can certainly test the players as often as possible and invest money in those tests. The hard truth is you cannot stop everything, especially when it comes to contagious illnesses. You can be smart and stay home if you are not well. Do not make any excuse to come to a game or play on the field if you do not feel healthy. Even if you have one of the many symptoms, stay home, get well and catch a later game at the stadium.
There is also talk of specialized equipment in the COVID-19 era like face or mouth shields. That is a big breakthrough for the league to think about these things. The NFL is a little behind in their planning, although they did do a virtual 2020 NFL Draft, which went surprisingly well. Now, we need to see the planning put into action this season. Unless any setbacks or new decisions come down the stretch, the Rams should have a 2020 season.
That being said, players have the option to opt out of the 2020 season. Quite a few players have already done so, including some big names such as: Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Eddie Goldman, Star Lotulelei and 17 others have officially opted out. As of now, the Rams don’t have any players that have opted out, however, Andrew Whitworth and his family did suffer from the virus.