In comments likely to encounter some push-back, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on a conference call Thursday that the league is planning games in stadiums with fans this fall.
According to multiple media reports and accounts on social media, Goodell also said training camps will open on time this summer, meaning all players would report to camps by July 28.
Goodell said the plan is to “get ready for games at our stadiums and to engage our fans both in stadiums and through our media partners,” according to an account of the call by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Measures such as seat covers and extensive testing are among the precautions planned.
Officials earlier Thursday scrubbed the annual Hall of Fame game and enshrinement ceremony. They are considering jettisoning some of the other pre-season games, accelerating a move already under way as the league prepares to adopt a 17-game regular season and a shorter pre-season.
Compared with other leagues, the NFL has thus far put up a brave front (of denial, some critics would charge) amid COVID-19. The reality of the pandemic has shifted of late, with national caseloads rising to their highest level since April and concerns increasing about the restart of the NBA and Major League Baseball seasons.
Leading health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, in Congressional testimony a few days ago, said it would be “very hard to see how football is played” in 2020 given the high degree of physical contact on the field, among other factors. (ESPN’s Darren Rovell re-tweeted the comments by Fauci, framing it with the “hold my beer” meme.)
Malcolm Jenkins of the New Orleans Saints said earlier Thursday on CNN (where he is now an official contributor) that NFL games should be considered “non-essential,” meaning they could pause until the virus threat eases. Several NFL players, including standouts like Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and members of the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos have tested positive this month for COVID-19, as have a range of other athletes. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin this week disclosed two positive tests for players but said they had not been at the team’s facility.
The league will need the consent of the NFL Players Association in order to move forward with its plans.
Several major college conferences, including the Big 10 and the Southeastern Conference, have said they are exploring playing football games in regular stadiums but with attendance capped at 20% of the normal level. Most other sports, from golf and tennis to hockey, basketball and baseball, have opted not to have fans for safety reasons.
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