Maybe it’s not too late for the NFL to build a league-wide bubble


In late March, we floated half-jokingly and half-seriously that the NFL may need to consider playing the 2020 season at a remote location with sufficient fields and dorms and food and everything else necessary for 256 regular-season games and 13 postseason games. There’s no reason to think the NFL ever seriously considered the possibility. Given the current state of the pandemic, especially in the United States, maybe it should have.

Maybe it still can.

The sports that have fashioned league-wide bubbles, like the MLS, NHL, and NBA, are doing well. Baseball, which isn’t in a bubble, is struggling — only a few days into its season.

The NFL will hunker down in 32 mini-bubbles from July 28 through September 10, 13, and 14. Regardless of whether and to what extent individual teams experience outbreaks during camp, the test comes when it’s time for teams to travel to other cities and play games, with 22 guys sweating, breathing, coughing, spitting, and bleeding on each other in close quarters.

Given the 24-hour lag between the collection of a sample and the generation of a result, a positive-test donut hole constantly will exist (at least until reliable point-of-care testing is developed). If a player’s Saturday test is negative, allowing him to play on Sunday, and his Sunday test comes back positive on Monday, he may have shed virus all over his teammates and opponents during a game.

In a sport like baseball, players generally aren’t on top of each other. When they are, it’s brief. In football, they’ll be constantly on top of each other.

Whether or not the non-bubble approach works for football remains to be seen. Some members of the football media (including some whose paychecks are signed by Roger Goodell) have raised the question of whether other members of the football media are rooting for football to fail. Frankly, that’s precisely the type of pig-headed attitude that got the country in this mess in the first place.

People who raise real questions and concerns about the virus are dismissed as “Karens” or “coronabros” by those who want to engage in stupid and/or selfish behaviors, and who are encouraged to do so by power-hungry politicians and cash-chasing media members for which there will be a special place in hell. No one wants to hear the truth, because the truth cuts against what we want to do and how we want to live and what we believe so if we just ignore the truth then it’s not our truth.

It’s one thing to handle political issues that way. It’s quite another to handle real-world, life-and-death topics with the kind of rose-colored blinders that actually endanger others.

That’s the thing about the pandemic. While some can (and will) rattle off statistics about the chances of dying from COVID-19 as compared to the chances of being killed by a falling cell tower or a runaway dune buggy or a pack of rabid hamsters, none of those things is contagious. COVID-19 is. So even if it doesn’t kill you, it may kill whoever you potentially if not inevitably transmit it to.

This is why responsible members of the media care about the situation, and it’s why responsible members of the media are asking questions, raising concerns, and pressing for approaches that strike the right balance between getting the games played and not exposing the general population to unnecessary risk of illness and death.

The key sentence in the announcement from Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif regarding his decision to not play in 2020 wasn’t simply a statement of personal belief but his clear, albeit implied, opinion regarding the way the rest of us should feel: “I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus to our communities simply to play the sport I love.”

A bubble could allow the games to be played, and the well-being of all NFL communities would be respected. And so the question now becomes whether there’s still a way to whisk the 32 teams off to a location that would serve as a league-wide bubble? It’s probably too late to pull it off, but it’s not to late to think about it.

Even if the start of the season would have to be delayed until October or November to facilitate the construction and preparation of a closed campus where all games would be played, there’s a real chance that it may be the only way to get all 269 games in.

Or we can continue to pretend everything will be fine and hope for the best and not sufficiently prepare for the worst and then wonder why any, some, or all of the games had to be postponed or canceled.