Written by Chris Kubala
While the COVID-19 pandemic ground professional sports in North America to a halt for a couple of months, one sport that has been virtually unscathed as far as having their schedule overly impacted so far was the NFL. The NBA and NHL both paused their regular seasons and hope to return to finish things out next month. MLB was scheduled to hold Opening Day on March 26 only to see their season delayed. They now are in the midst of a contentious battle between the owners and the MLBPA as the sides try to hammer out some sort of agreement about a new deal. Meanwhile, the NFL cruised through free agency, the draft and voluntary OTAs in an effort to work toward the start of their normal training camp/preseason/regular season run from late summer through the fall.
As it turned out, the first big hits from the COVID-19 pandemic hit the league on Monday as players from the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. Among the players is Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Ian Rapoport made the announcement about Elliott’s diagnosis after getting confirmation of the situation from Elliott’s agent, Rocky Arceneaux. Citing privacy laws, the Cowboys stated that they were unable to provide information about any potential results involving “team employees.”
The reports are the first major ones to be reported since states have begun reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Texas has been one of the first states to aggressively reopen and seems intent on continuing that trend, even with the skyrocketing of cases in recent days. Earlier this month, Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state would be transitioning to Stage 3 of their reopening plan. Under that set of protocols, sports venues would be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity as opposed to 25 percent. While that could theoretically be a boost as far as attendance and subsequently, revenue, goes, the fact remains that with the uptick in cases, one has to be concerned as to whether the fans will actually turn out.
It’s an ongoing trend where cases in several states where NFL teams reside have seen upticks in case counts since the reopening. How those states respond and how effective the NFL is at enforcing their rules for social distancing, health protocols and the rest will go a long way to determining what kind of experience the league will have this season. There have been plenty of optimistic statements that the league will be able to play games as usual from their chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills as recently as two weeks ago.
Whether the fact that players like Elliott, along with Dallas teammates and members of the Texans, have tested positive will affect the league’s potential plans or their timeline remains to be seen. The hope is that this will be the aberration as opposed to the norm and things will progress as normal. It’s a waiting game right now but the fact that the league continues to operate under the business as usual proposal right now. Hopefully, Elliott and the other players that have tested positive will return to full health sooner rather than later.