Matthew Judon wore a blue surgical mask as he spoke to reporters from behind a podium. He’s a member of the most popular team in the National Football League, and he can watch the Super Bowl from wherever he is, and now there’s another hurdle to that goal that may be more irritating than the Chiefs, Bills, and Titans.
While standing in front of a backdrop that includes many repeats of the Patriots logo and those of two team sponsors, Judon was not required to wear this mask. The NFL has rules that require face covering in certain situations for those players who chose to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, but Judon is not one of them.
“All we can say as leaders, or anyone, is protect ourselves,” said Judon, who leads the Patriots with 12.5 sacks, on Wednesday. “If you are going out, wear a mask. Try not to spend time in places where you really don’t have to, when you can be at home. “
The NFL has a COVID problem. He is not unique in this. Everybody has a COVID problem. Again. It is our third journey through this nightmare, each journey perhaps less daunting than the last, but each new visit brings a growing sense of exhaustion.
For once, however, we can unequivocally say that the NFL has handled this problem as it should. In an environment that includes members of Congress making public jokes about the importance of masking or arguing against messages emphasizing the importance of vaccination, the league is firmly committed to fighting the spread of the virus.
The league has required coaches and front office staff to be vaccinated and recently also receive a booster shot. In cooperation with the NFL Players Association, the league implemented pre-season rules and protocols designed to encourage vaccination, which has been, for about a year, the most efficient method of combating the spread and impact of COVID.
It can be argued that those standards and practices are insufficient now. The NFLPA called for daily testing at the league’s facilities to help mitigate the spread, which was a reasonable suggestion, though its simultaneous reference to an early September lawsuit for that approach turned out to be mere bombast.
Whether it’s the Omicron variant or just the changing weather that forces more people to stay indoors more often, or both, the NFL has a virus problem that will drastically affect this weekend’s games. There have been minor interruptions throughout the season, with players like Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and Broncos tight end Noah Fant missing games due to to positive tests. This is different, however, with 90 players on the league’s COVID roster, including 17 with the Washington Football Team and 13 with the Rams. The Browns, who are scheduled to play the Raiders Saturday afternoon, have 11 on the roster and could be without quarterback Baker Mayfield, two starting offensive linemen, tight end Austin Hooper and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
The NFL has yet to make any moves in response to this. You have not changed the date of any week 15 games. You have not agreed to change your testing protocols. But the league and the players’ association have been debating whether to modify the procedures.
In the English Premier League, teams will now face improved protocols, including more frequent testing and the requirement to wear face covers indoors and social distancing when possible.
One thing the NFL shouldn’t consider: abandoning the “zero COVID” approach, a step advocated by many who, in the past, fought against masking, distancing, and / or vaccination. Arguing for the league to allow COVID-positive players to participate on the grounds that serious illness has been a problem for some of them is a continuation of the denial that too many public voices have been involved in, out loud. and dangerously. As is the case with vaccinating young people, it is not simply a question of whether those people will get sick, but who among the people they contact might get sick.
The Omicron variant appears to be spreading faster, according to experts, because it is more adept at infecting even those who have been properly vaccinated. “There will be a lot of breakthrough cases,” NYU Langone Health epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Lighter told the New York Times.
However, the evidence from studies elsewhere, particularly in South Africa, that has grappled with this strain for a longer period of time, is that such advances rarely cause serious COVID illness. Which increases the importance of vaccination and exacerbates the problems caused by – and by – those who have refused.
The league managed to complete a full season without cancellations in 2020, when there was no vaccine available to the public until the very end and, even then, mostly restricted to those who required protection more than professional athletes.
Each team in the league has five games left in the 2021 season. Teams at the top of the standings, like Judon’s 9-4 Patriots, want to reach the finish line on January 9 in the best possible position to compete for the Super Bowl. The team is near the top of the standings, as Mayfield’s 7-6 Browns want their fate in the playoffs to be determined by as complete a complement of the team’s best players as possible.
Judon’s advice could be a solid step toward achieving this. There are no guarantees, as we’ve learned over the past 20 months, but relying on mere good luck doesn’t seem like a solid strategy.