Fans all around the country put on their favorite jerseys, wool hats and game day faces; families pile into cars with cornhole sets and grills, tailgate ready. Loud music from the parking lot plays as friends play a short game of football in between cars. Tickets are scanned, fans are lining up in large numbers and…masks are being worn? This can only mean one thing: the National Football League is back, but not like we’ve known it in past years. 

This year, COVID-19 had other plans for the league. With great uncertainty since the genesis of the virus, it ended up preventing fans from creating the all-too-familiar electric atmosphere of packed football stadiums. During this modified season, each team in the league chooses whether they will allow fans into their games in significantly decreased capacity with the proper anti-COVID-19 procedures (mask-wearing and social distancing). Executives of the league had decided against a bubble format as there are simply too many players in the league; instead, they are following a traditional travelling format, similar to the MLB. In the beginning of the season, protocols were laid out, like recommended mask wearing for players on the sidelines. Seems easy enough…right?

The NFL seemed to have a strong grip on the control of COVID-19 cases within their teams, but things began to go awry quickly as the first outbreak fell upon the league within the Tennessee Titans organization. 18 members of the organization tested positive for COVID-19, some being players, others team staff. The Titans’ staff has stated that they have been doing a great job following the rules the league has set in place, and have turned over videotapes to prove their honesty.

However, with the outbreak up in New England, things have become a little bit more suspicious than in Tennessee. Cam Newton, the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback, has contracted the virus. The interesting part about this is that no one else on the Patriots tested positive. This means that he could have been reckless with mask-wearing or possibly spending time with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This raises one major question: Is he taking the NFL’s rules seriously? Since his contraction of the virus, three other positive cases have popped up, namely by Stephon Gilmore and Bill Murray, per WWLP news. The fourth name has not yet been released to the public.

With these positive tests from Newton, Gilmore and Murray, the Patriots had to halt their season play for a short amount of time, with their game against the Kansas City Chiefs being postponed. This postponement is extremely crucial to the league, because hypothetically, if Cam Newton took the field without a mask, he would be exposing Patriots players, as well as Chiefs players who have been obeying the league’s rules and restrictions. Gilmore tested positive just two days after the Pats-Chiefs game was made up, potentially exposing numerous others to the virus without even knowing it.

The NFL has a very formal and extensive set of rules that they put in place so that they can adapt and quickly overcome unforeseen events, such as an outbreak. In order for a player to return to play after a positive test, they must receive two straight negative tests and increased symptom monitoring. If such an unforeseen event happens to occur, the league is prepared to postpone, reschedule and work around the schedule so no team has an unfair advantage over the other in terms of games played.

They also mention a very detailed player fine protocol that states that a player can be fined a determined sum of money “if they are found to have engaged in reckless behavior away from the team facility.” This can consist of going to bars, nightclubs, indoor entertainment events or any event that breaks state and local restrictions. Should a player refuse a COVID-19 test, they will be fined $5,000, and if they get caught without a mask multiple times, they can get slammed with a fine of over $14,000. If the NFL finds Cam Newton guilty of breaking any of these rules, he may have a very large fine coming his way due to the inconvenience of changing around the league schedule to accommodate for a rise in positive cases.

 There are only a few teams hosting fans back into their stadiums for this season, and they are the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins. The Jaguars are holding the most fans in their stadium, up to 25 percent capacity, whereas the Colts are only hosting at a capacity of 3.5 percent.

Some players in the NFL have been complying with the rules that have been put in place so that they can avoid the spread of the virus and allow everyone to play football safely. Others, though, may be relaxing a little too much, which is having a negative effect on the league and its play as a whole. If these players want the rest of the season to play out swiftly and smoothly, the league should tighten up on the restrictions and players should make sure they are being diligent mask-wearers. 

Fans, Fantasy Football managers and the rest of the nation are counting on the NFL to deliver the best possible viewing experience, especially with the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association coming to their respective closes until next season. Although the COVID-19 outbreak may be preventing fans from partaking in their usual game day rituals in-person, we are still able to enjoy the season in its entirety and cheer on our favorite teams from the safety of our living rooms.

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