While the coronavirus pandemic has changed large gatherings, it’s also changed how, and if, athletes can play sports.
Countless high school and college seasons have been canceled over the past five months. The largest leagues in the world have postponed, or changed their landscape entirely. The NBA has moved players to one “bubble” campus with strict health and safety measures to continue to play while mitigating COVID-19 infection spread.
Many wonder what the upcoming NFL season will look like, as the kickoff date draws near.
While visiting Sanford Health, members of the NFL Alumni Association discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic may impact the upcoming season with Sanford Health News.
Part of the problem with the upcoming season is that the novel coronavirus remains vastly unpredictable, making it hard for leaders to make decisions on how the season will look, says NFL Alumni Association co-director of health care initiatives Kyle Richardson.
“I’m close to some of the physicians that are trying to think this through from the NFL perspective. I don’t think anybody has it really figured out,” he said.
Richardson played nine years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. He said the NFL does have the luxury of watching how other professional leagues are handling the pandemic.
“Look at Major League Baseball right now. They’re going through a model and it’s not perfect. They’re having shutdowns too. So, the football realm, it presents many more people involved.
“I’m sure right up to the last minute, they’re going to be watching, monitoring, and adding protocols possibly at the last minute,” said Richardson.
Safety issues, tough decisions
Billy Davis, NFL Alumni Association co-director of health care initiatives, says the biggest issue facing the league is the constant tight-knit interaction between players.
“It’s a contact sport. It’s a violent sport. It’s a sport that is essential to close contact. They’re going to have challenges,” said Davis, a two-time Super Bowl champion who played for the Ravens and the Cowboys. “They can look to control that environment, but it’s going to be hard because football has the most number of players on a single field.”
Because of the unknown, Richardson says many players will be forced to make difficult decisions this season.
“There’s definitely a difference in the guys that are well healed, that have big contracts that are going to be on those teams. Those guys are in a different spot and maybe they can take a year off and feel comfortable enough. But, those other guys, 80-90% of guys, they have a tough decision to make. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.
“A lot of guys will be forced into saying, ‘I’ve got to play, but I’m nervous about the atmosphere, and the potential risk of this,'” said Richardson.
Progress on concussions
While more emphasis has been placed on player safety, concussions continue to be a health concern for current and former NFL players.
Davis says the continued conversation on the topic is a bright spot for the future.
“When I played, it wasn’t a conversation. It wasn’t even an issue. The health and protection of athletes is the essential topic to keep this sport viable. If they don’t find the right solutions and address in a serious way, the decline of the sport will be fast. It will be inevitable.
“What they’re doing with that conversation and research is a great thing, and they’re making it a priority.”
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