NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell On Playing Through Covid-19: “We Do Think It’s Safe To Continue”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell NFL via AP

In a rare live interview during an even more rare telecast — a Wednesday afternoon NFL football game — league commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the intensifying threat of Covid-19.

Despite dozens of positive coronavirus tests and record waves of infection sweeping the country, a pause or shortening of the NFL season is not in the cards, Goodell asserted.

“We do think it’s safe to continue,” he said during NBC’s broadcast of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game. “Virus spread has increased in our community, so that’s a challenge for us. But we believe that the protocols that we’ve established are working. We’re going to continue to evaluate and see what improvements we can continue to make.”

Originally set for Thanksgiving night in primetime, today’s oddly timed game had to be rescheduled three times due to a significant outbreak of the coronavirus. More than 20 Ravens players, coaches and staff were sidelined, including Lamar Jackson, Baltimore’s quarterback and the reigning league MVP. While Covid-19 in parts of the company was easing in early September as the season began, infection rates have been surging, taxing hospitals and officials as the weather cools and winter approaches.

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Goodell told NBC’s Mike Tirico that he stood by the decision to keep postponing the Ravens-Steelers matchup even as the league forced the Denver Broncos to host a game last Sunday without any quarterbacks on their active roster. Critics have assailed Goodell for putting his thumb on the scales of justice, punishing the mediocre Broncos while giving the Ravens more time given their winning record and the Steelers’ undefeated status.

“Obviously, our objective is to finish 256 games safely,” Goodell emphasized, citing the total number of games in an NFL season.

Asked by Tirico about adopting a “bubble” environment to ensure that the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl LV can be played in January and February, Goodell warned viewers not to expect anything reminiscent of the NBA or NHL. Those two leagues managed to restart and finish their seasons in heavily restricted bubble environments. The NBA confined players from 16 playoff teams (plus a handful more to start) on a single campus in Orlando, with some staying for more than three months. It reported no positive Covid-19 tests. Neither did the NHL, which kept players in Canadian bubbles — Toronto in the East and Edmonton in the West — as its Stanley Cup Playoffs took place.

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The NFL would have a hard time pulling off such a scheme given the far greater number of players and personnel. The league’s approach instead has been to try to fight through the pandemic with a “next man up” approach, similar to how it handles injuries or suspensions.

A bubble concept, at least “the way it’s perceived in the general public, is not something we would do,” Goodell said. “We believe our protocols are working. We would consider further isolations to reduce the risk for all of our personnel so that they’re not exposed to the virus and bringing it into the facilities or to the club.”

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