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COVID dominated the professional sports landscape over the last two years and the National Football League far and away navigated the pandemic better than the other major sports leagues.
The NFL was the only one over the last two seasons to not cancel any regular season or playoff games and this week it eliminated all COVID protocols going forward.
The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season and then restarted in limited fashion in a bubble. The next season was shortened with a delayed December start. Even in this current season, the NBA just ruled out Devin Booker of the Suns on COVID protocols and Kyrie Irving still can’t play home games in Brooklyn due to his unvaccinated status.
Baseball is inherently the most socially distanced major sport yet their 2020 season was delayed and shortened by two-thirds to only 60 games. The 2021 season was more “normal” but there were cross-border travel restrictions.
The NHL suspended their season in March 2020, lost games and later restarted in a bubble with hub cities. The following season was shortened to 56 games, teams were realigned and cross border travel was limited.
Meanwhile, the NFL grew its game and popularity to all-time highs while playing full regular season and playoff schedules. Recall as the 2020 football season was starting, there still was much panic among players and coaches. A piece on the concept of viral load was the voice of reason that the season could indeed start on time and be played at relatively low risk despite blocking and tackling. Yes, there were many twists and turns and protocols/rules changed midstream several times. Games were moved that year but every meaningful contest was played.
This past season saw the threat of Omicron and the NFL was the leader in modified testing and quarantine protocols. By the playoffs, COVID was a competitive non-factor.
All of this was done under the leadership of a neurosurgeon. Dr. Allan Sills was originally brought on as the NFL Chief Medical Officer to deal with the CTE issues yet he skillfully crafted consensus policy between the league and NFLPA. No question the NFL also benefited from lucky timing as it was offseason when the pandemic exploded, but they were the first ones back “normally” in terms of the on field games and schedule.
With the league’s testing and tracing protocols, infectious disease experts and the CDC all learned more about COVID. To this day, there has yet to be a documented case of on-field coronavirus disease transmission in football.
Kudos to the NFL. They are leading the way again and have removed all COVID protocols. Let’s all hope there is not a new variant and it stays that way.