NFL chief medical officer: Return from COVID requires educating players

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The NFL has the benefit of time, and the examples of other leagues, when it comes to returning to work after a long COVID-19 layoff.

But one of their most important challenges as they return later this summer will be emphasizing to players how they have to be vigilant away from the worksite.

While the NBA’s resuming play with 22 teams based in Orlando, NFL teams will be in their own buildings when they return to practice for training camp, creating a concern for what happens away from those facilities.

It’s impossible to maintain a bubble atmosphere,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said. “And obviously it is crucially important how people take care of themselves when they leave the team environment. We’ll be doing a lot of education in that regard. But everyone is dependent on everyone else in his organization.”

Players including Falcons center Alex Mack have voiced similar concerns, and Sills acknowledged that time away from the facility (whether nights off during the season or bye weeks) will be a hard thing for the league to regulate.

Sills remains optimistic that the season will be played as scheduled three months from now, and “hopefully with fans.” He also knows that each team’s infection control officer will be important, but stressed that every employee has to do their part.

“We feel the infection control officer is going to play an important role,” Sills said. “Everyone’s going to be responsible for a team’s environment. Everybody’s got to be conscious about wearing masks and hand-washing and social-distancing away from the facility. Everyone has a role to play. Everyone shares the risk. Testing, cleaning, separation in physical distancing—it’s not a one-person job.”

That message has taken root among the employees who are on the job, as Sills said one athletic trainer told him: “It’s not going to feel normal because it’s not going to be normal.”

That reality has them stressing flexibility in their plans, knowing so much can change in three months.