Dr. Allen Sills: “We already have a virtual football bubble”

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At a time when some are wondering whether the NFL should consider an NBA/NHL/MLS-style bubble, the NFL’s chief medical officer claims the NFL essentially already has one.

“When you talk about a ‘bubble,’ people define that term differently,” Dr. Allen Sills said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com. “Some people define it one way and others define it another way. We would say that we already have a virtual football bubble, because as we said before, everyone in our team environment shares the same risk, but they share the same responsibility to each other. At the facility, they share a responsibility for what they’re doing, but they also share a responsibility when they’re away from the facility.”

Indeed, “personal responsibility” is a term that NFL executives have used when talking about the significance of the things done by players and coaches both when at work and when away from work. And that’s a critical component of whether the league’s approach will survive the ultimate pass-fail test.

“This isn’t just about players,” Dr. Sills said. “It’s coaches, staff and their families. We want them to make good choices, the same way we do all of society. We want them to wear masks, practice good hygiene, stay away from sick people and large gatherings. All of those things are going to be critical to the success of our season, and that’s why we’re spending a lot of time on education and making sure that everyone hears that message and is on the same page.”

Even then, the NFL knows that there will be positive test results.

“We’ve said all along that we expected there would be positive cases among players and personnel,” Dr. Sills said. “And there may be a number on each team. As long as this virus is endemic in society, we’re going to continue to see new cases.”

Some would say that it’s no big deal because most players and coaches will be asymptomatic. While that part is accurate, the NFL won’t be allowing players to play or coaches to coach while positive for the virus, in order to limit the spread.

As a society, we’ve seen what happens when people fail to take steps to limit the spread of the virus. The NFL, to its credit, will try to do so. The $64,000 times $64,000 question is whether the NFL can pull it off.

If the positive COVID-19 cases can remain, per team, within the single digits at any given time, it should work. If the numbers get into the teens and 20s for one or more teams, that could be a problem.

Regardless, the NFL apparently remains determined to press forward with a virtual bubble, not an actual bubble. Given that baseball is using a virtual bubble, too, and given that baseball’s approach already is on the verge of imploding, maybe the NFL should go back to the drawing board and consider whether a real bubble may be the only way to make the 2020 season work.

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