David Chao, MD: NFL Data Is Both Good and Bad, But Having It Is Key

Information is vital to all decision making but how to interpret the data is the real key. The COVID deniers and COVID fearful can both take the latest NFLPA interactive map and data  to use to support their stance. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Whether one takes the “glass half full” or “glass half empty” stance the numbers are the same. The only difference is the interpretation. The coloring is arbitrary. The “red” and its intensity is for visualization; not based in science.

The NFL has an interactive map that is an important resource. Click here for more.

Optimists will point to the fact that there are many low transmission areas, especially given the NFL is a Northeast-centric league and that is where many of the numbers are good. Not all NFL players are multi-millionaires but they don’t typically live in crowded multi-generational housing where the risk of spread is increased.

It is interesting that the epicenter of deaths in New York City and even hard-hit Boston are now have among the lowest numbers. Is that herd immunity or widespread compliance of social distancing?

The bullish will see the high Miami numbers and say the numbers will dip like New York by the time the regular season rolls around.

Pessimists will point to the high levels in the South. Clearly the virus did not disappear in the summer heat.

NFL teams are not in a bubble and will travel; so there is no true isolation. Indeed 30 out of 32 teams have reported positive tests or opt outs. The Chargers and Cardinals will certainly follow suit in the next few days as the results from the rest of the initial reporting tests results are announced. The player total so far per the NFLPA website is 128, well on the way to the 150-200 that we had always anticipated

Even with the data and continued reports of virus spread, I still believe the NFL will be able to start the season on time. To me there are three main reasons football will be played.

First, the luck of the timing where the pandemic started after the season and over six months before the next season. If we could market time stocks like this, we would all be rich and retired. In addition, the timing allows the NFL gets to learn from the mistakes of other leagues like baseball

Second, despite the fact that football is not played in a socially distanced way, the viral load needed to transmit the disease makes the on field activities lower risk. People are beginning to understand where the real risk is. Transmission between opponents in sports has been low in other sports that have returned. The spread has been off the field as demonstrated by the Marlins

Finally, the players and owners are aligned in terms of revenue sharing. The salary cap is a direct reflection of the main streams of income. As it is, largely if not completely without fans, the player salary pool will take a hit. If there are no games this season and TV money disappears, that would have disastrous ramifications going forward for years given that for the most part NFL players have non-guaranteed contracts.

Whether the glass is half full or half empty, at least there is water in the cup. Let’s safely move on to the NFL season and focus on football instead of COVID.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

3 Comments

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  1. Hi Doctor Chao,
    For the life of me I can’t understand why all teams haven’t been tested to determine how many players might have covid antibodies. I scanned the FDA website (fda.gov then click on corona virus testing basics) and I saw that in some places serology antibody test results can be obtained same day, in other places from 1-3 days for results.
    Shouldn’t that be one of the first things done to rule out players who may now be immune? Wouldn’t that information be helpful?
    Perhaps the NFL knows the breakdown but is just reporting totals? The 128 positive tests (and opt outs) can’t just be “snapshot” tests for certain dates. The analysis would have to include all the various levels of risk, and those who no longer are at risk? The NFL has very deep pockets, I can’t imagine testing costs are a factor in their equation. Just asking…thank you, Doctor.

  2. At some point athletes are going to lie about their health just as Brett Favre lied about his many concussions. NBA players and baseball players are already being deceptive. But the general public doesn’t know what’s real and what’s being hyped.

    The testing and the results of testing shouldn’t be so public. It seems like it violates the rights of individuals in favor of a collective. The collective is in a panic in part because of all this hysteria surrounding testing. Not the level of sickness and death.

    We’re going down a bad path and athletes are being manipulated and used to stoke hysteria in the greater public. Seems quarantining is more likely to kill the patient.

    Fear pornography

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