Written By: Annilee Hampton
The 2020 NFL season began as scheduled on Sept. 10th, 2020, with defending champions the Kansas City Chiefs defeating the Houston Texans with a score of 34 – 20. However, this season looks much different than those in prior years. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, a multitude of changes were implemented in order to create the safest environment possible for players and fans.
Stadiums will be admitting fans if it is possible under local health orders. During week two of the season, only three out of 16 stadiums will be admitting fans, with other stadiums leaving open the possibility of admitting spectators later in the season should conditions improve. The idea of only certain games having spectators has sparked discord amongst many coaches, arguing that spectators create a competitive advantage. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell disagreed, stating that there is no advantage in some teams having spectators present while others would not. “We do not see that. We obviously have varying capacities across the league, and from our standpoint, we want to invite our fans in if we can do it safely and we can do it with the full support of local officials. We think our fans want to come to the stadium,” he said. Fans will be required to wear face masks, and the rows of seating closest to the field will be closed.
The NFL also has a complex contact tracing system in place. This summer, teams began using SafeZone tags, proximity recorders developed by German-based company Kinexon. Both the NBA and the NFL have been utilizing the devices to assist with social distancing and contract tracing in order to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. When two people come within six feet of each other, the device will flash or sound an alarm as a warning signal. In addition, the devices will log a person’s contacts, providing information on who will need to take precautions in the event of a possible outbreak. This includes gathering information on in-game contact between players. “We all know that football and physical distance do not go together as far as on-field activity,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “So we really want to dive in and have the most accurate information we can have about exposures on the field, but also off the field as well.”
The league has banned television and radio reporters for the current season from the sidelines for the current season. Most reporters will now be stationed in the first few rows of the stands. Television broadcasters will be allowed only essential employees at field level. Each network will be permitted up to 46 employees on the field, with masks mandatory. Masks will also be required for coaches and staff members in the bench area. As a result of this, many game officials have opted to use hand-held electronic whistles rather than wearing regular whistles underneath their masks.
After opening week, not one player was added to the league’s COVID-19 reserve list — an indication that the new guidelines have paid off. Still, says Cleveland Browns center and NFL Players Association president J.C. Tretter, players must remain vigilant. “If there’s one thing we can all agree on,” Tretter stated, “it’s that we wish our reality today looked a bit different. The sooner we stop fighting each other and instead frame the virus as our common enemy, the closer we’ll get to the sense of normalcy that we all miss.”