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NFLPA: We Can Avoid a Bubble

The union says that the NFL season should be able to finish with teams playing in their home city

Brian Young's picture
Dec 09, 2020

Although the NFL has been dealing with outbreaks of COVID-19 throughout the season, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) believes that the season can be completed without having to resort to a bubble, like the NBA and NHL.

On Tuesday, NFLPA President and Cleveland Brown’s Center JC Tretter and Executive Director DeMaurice Smith held a virtual news conference where they discussed the challenges that players have felt during the season. Both said that rules, that were negotiated before the season between the NFLPA and the league, have prevented a wider spread of the virus. Some of these rules include requiring players and staff to be tested daily, wearing masks, socially distancing, and having contact tracing done immediately after a player tests positive.

While this has led to some unique situations, like the Broncos being forced to play without a quarterback after all of their quarterbacks were quarantined due to coming in contact with a player who tested positive, it has also prevented the cancellation of games. The union said that since 90% of players test positive within five days of exposure, their policy of quarantining close contacts, as was the case with the Broncos, has helped stop the spread of the virus.

“When we all follow the protocols, they work and they work well,” Tretter said. “The contact tracing, getting everyone who potentially are exposed out of the building, works to stop the spread of the virus. It will all come down to how well we follow those protocols and we will continue to evolve those protocols as needed. We know they work and we need to make sure we have 100% compliance to finish the season.”

According to numbers that were released by the league and the union, last week positive tests fell from 0.2% to 0.11%. Since August 1, 173 players and 297 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

In regards to finishing the season in a bubble, Tretter said that there is a human aspect to forcing players into a bubble.

“Our players have wives and kids at home that they want to see,” he said. “It’s been a tough year from a mental health perspective for our players. The feeling of isolation of not being able to see people, their friends, and family. Further asking guys to stay away from their young kids and family for six weeks is a big ask and has ramifications outside of the game of football.”

This is a problem that the San Francisco 49ers are currently facing. Due to new regulations in Santa Clara banning contact sports until the end of the year, the team has been forced to move its operations to Glendale, Arizona. The 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has said that the team is working on figuring out what they will be able to do so that the players can spend Christmas with their families. Shanahan has also reportedly reached out to 20 players to ask them to keep an eye out on teammates who might be struggling with being away from their families. He noted that in the NBA bubble players could move around and there were organized events for them to participate in, while the 49ers players are much more restricted in their movements due to the large community spread both in Glendale and across the country. Some NBA players, like Paul George, spoke openly about the toll that playing in the bubble and being away from their families took on them. "I underestimated mental health," George said. "I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Us being locked in here, I just wasn’t there. I just checked out."

Smith also said that epidemiologists have concerns about a bubble for the NFL. Roster sizes for football or nearly 5 times the size of the NBA and teams would need to include many more coaches, trainers, and staff members than the NBA or NHL. Smith said that doctors have warned that if someone comes into the bubble sick or catches the virus while in the bubble, it could infect many more people than with the teams spread out over the entire country.

Tretter and Smith did say though that circumstances could change if players don’t continue to adhere to the rules or if community spread continues to spike.

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