Last month, I wrote about my excitement and concerns about the 2020 NFL season. I was concerned about injuries, and about the spread of COVID-19. The realities of the situation have been both surprising and unsurprising.
To say that injuries are common in football is an understatement. It’s pretty much a matter of yearly speculation as to which big star will be out for the season rather than an occasional freak accident.
That said, it feels worse than usual this season.
After only week two, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Nick Bosa all had major injuries, and now as we approach the midpoint of the season, which key player each team is missing is a better question than who is irreplaceable. Michael Thomas from the Saints, Zach Ertz from the Eagles, and Taylor Lewan from the Titans have all had significant injuries since. And that’s not even counting players like Aaron Jones, Mark Ingram, and Mike Evans, whose injuries are less severe but may still lead to less impactful play. We aren’t seeing teams play at their full capacity right now.
From a football perspective, this sucks because we don’t get to see the best version of a given matchup, but more importantly, these players are real people, and their injuries will affect their bodies and careers long after COVID-19 is finally handled.
The lack of a preseason and the limitations on practice are obvious reasons for increased injuries. Players need to be in the best possible shape to stay healthy, and teams hire numerous professionals to ensure that they are. But those professionals can’t do their jobs when preseason and practice are cancelled due to COVID-19.
Beyond football-related injuries, the environment of an NFL team is inherently unsafe when it comes to COVID-19 itself. Teams have upwards of 50 players, and that’s not including coaches and staff who need to keep facilities and equipment ready for use. How are they supposed to effectively socially distance? And every single play, the defensive and offensive lines squat with their faces right up against each other, breathing hard from playing a difficult sport. Even if players follow protocols correctly, an outbreak still seems likely.
Several teams have had cases, and though it seems to be largely one or two at a time, there have also been numerous false positives. Which raises the question: How reliable is the testing that these teams are doing? Ultimately COVID-19 is still fairly unpredictable, though we know much more about it now than we did a few months ago. We know that if players effectively socially distance, they can reduce the spread of the virus.
But from what we’ve seen, they aren’t. The Raiders, the Titans, and just this week the Giants have all had issues with players breaking protocol, and those are just the larger, more public incidents. Social distancing in any setting is only as effective as its practitioners.
Players are more likely to be injured from football because of COVID-19, and may be more likely to catch COVID-19 because they play professional football. Football is already unsafe, but it’s even more so now. How much risk is acceptable?
For the NFL, the answer seems to be as much as they can get away with.