• Bret Rumbeck

Reopening the League: How the NFL Plans to Keep Players Safe

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

In case you need a bit of positivity for your week, the National Football League and Players’ Association released facility protocol for the 2020 season.

For a moment, I will roll around like a hog in fresh mud in the combined optimism that professional football will be on the television screen in 13 weeks.

Each franchise facility is limited to a select group of “essential personnel… based on their roles and job responsibilities…” The document then divides these men and women into three tiers and includes restricted areas of the facility.

Tier 1 are players and any people who must have direct access to players. These men and women include coaches, trainers, physicians, and equipment managers. A team cannot have more than 60 people designated as Tier 1, in addition to the men on the roster.

Tier 2 are those who will “be in close proximity to players and other Tier 1 Individuals and who may need access to Restricted Areas.” These people are other coaches, trainers, managers, the general manager, and the team’s public relations staff.

Those individuals in these two tiers will undergo daily screening and testing before entering the building.

Tier 3 are the men and women who “perform essential facility, stadium, or even services, but do not require close contact with Tier 1 individuals.” The Tier 3 folks include operational staff, in-house media, and broadcast teams, the field manager, and other stadium personnel not assigned to a restricted area.

There are also guidelines on designating entrances for Tiers 1 and 2, implementing automated doors, improving foot traffic, sanitation of the facility and player equipment, and even on proper airflow throughout the building.

Much like your workplace or other commercial establishment, teams must implement social distancing measures. Somehow, the San Francisco 49ers and 31 other teams will have to “reconfigure locker rooms to permit six (6) feet of space between each player… where possible.”

God bless the NFL and the NFLPA for trying. Really, I do think it is lovely they sat down to hammer out a plan to try and keep people virus free.

I can’t tell if their collective confidence level is legitimate, or both parties are doing their best to provide Americans with something to talk about other than a global pandemic.

Regardless, the document defies any real medical science and logic. Short of mandating radiation suits, it is impossible to disinfect a full-contact sport and ensure coaches, players, and staff remain healthy.

Guidelines or not, if the NFL goes through with a season this fall, then we should all prepare for at least one-third of the league to contract the virus. At that point, I wouldn’t be shocked if Commissioner Roger Goodell canceled what was left of the season.

In a single game, one professional football player shares more bodily fluids with other people than he did with one person on junior prom night. Guidelines and recommendations make everyone feel good, but nothing is stopping a veteran tackle from Oklahoma from blowing snot rockets all over the practice field.

Anyone who has played football has witnessed a teammate vomit in the middle of the huddle. Maybe I’m showing my age, but Turlock High did not have a disinfection team to clean up after Robert Sanchez tossed his pregame meal at the 20-yard line. Back in my day, we played through it and hoped that Sanchez would end up dropping a quarterback in said upchuck.

The NFL’s guidelines do include instructions on cleaning field equipment “with EPA list N disinfectants at the end of each practice. Field turf must also be disinfected.”

What good does that do after two hours of licking fingers, sweat wiping, and breathing on one another in a humid huddle?

The one upside is NFL teams can dump the boring halftime shows and instead hire a disinfection Zamboni and a sterilization crew dressed in team-approved clean suits.

This year has been unlike anything the world has seen in three generations. Humanity is dealing with a highly contagious global pandemic, which some believe can be cured by ingesting bleach or the latest snake oil peddled by a career fraudster.

If that were not enough, then the Clinton-Soros-Gates conspiracy theory should fill you with terror and dread. Anyone with half a brain clearly knows that these families are part of a global plot to fill your body with tracking nanobots made of last week’s abortions and infant foreskin.

The ugly, violent murders of two African-American men reignited a powder keg that’s been steadily filling with benzene and liquid oxygen for four centuries.

And since sports are not there to comfort us, we have our Dear Leader, who felt it necessary to take a photo in front of a church while holding a Bible.

The momentum from the high, beautiful wave that Hunter S. Thompson described has long crashed, and any sense of victory over racism or society’s embrace of ignorance is far from inevitable.

Football is an obvious elixir to escape from the slings and arrows of this foul year.

An afternoon football game, even at a local bar with friends and cold beer, sounds right and proper.

But that slice of normalcy will come at a high cost to NFL players, coaches, and team personnel. No amount of tiering, distancing, or automation will keep the NFL immune from a dangerous pulmonary virus.

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