Updated: Sep 21
The reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs open their season tonight against the Houston Texans after an unusual offseason. The COVID-19 outbreak caused many sports to alter their seasons; whether it be pausing and restarting, or shortening it like the MLB has, sports have taken a toll as a result. But the NFL seems to be an outlier. Other than cancelling preseason games and following the COVID-19 guidelines, football will be played as scheduled for the 2020-2021 season. For tonight’s game, only 17,000 fans will be permitted entry into Arrowhead Stadium as the Chiefs are allowing just 22% capacity inside for the foreseeable future. Many other teams have decided to do the same and allow roughly 20% of fans to attend games. Some teams, like the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens will not be allowing fans for at least the first two weeks. The Ravens announced that they're not sure if they will allow fans to attend games at M&T Bank Stadium at all this season.
The NFL has worked diligently to guarantee that its season will be ready for kickoff tonight by adjusting to the new way of life and creating a safe environment for both players and fans. The major decision that the league had made in order to keep everyone safe was to cancel all four preseason games for every team. This decision makes it harder for coaching staff to evaluate talent and install game plans and schemes; but for the betterment of the players, coaches and fans, teams are willing to sacrifice resources for safety. To go along with this decision the NFL has allowed teams access to hotels so that players and staff can stay in a socially distanced environment and have a safe commute from the hotel to the practice facility each day. When players arrive at the facility they are checked for any symptoms and cleared for practice. If a player tests positive for the virus then they are required to leave the facility and quarantine themselves for the acceptable time period. Families and friends of players or coaches are not allowed in the practice facility, as they normally would, to ensure safety.
Players are not held in the dark when it comes to decision making, though. The league has given players the fair choice to opt out of this season and stay home with their families, if that player decided not playing was the best option for him and his family. The deadline for players to opt out has passed and at the moment the NFL has roughly 70 players who have decided to stay home this year. Each team will be affected by this differently as one team may have less significant players opting out than other teams. With that being said, there are usually 1,700 players representing teams in the league and to have only 70 players opt out and need to be replaced is ideal for the NFL. It would be a different story if hundreds of players opted out, which would leave the product on the field to be less entertaining as it normally would, due to the loss in star factor.
These are unprecedented times for not only the NFL but other sports leagues, and more importantly, ordinary people. Having a distraction like football on Sundays could be a great way for Americans to forget about being cooped up all summer and focus on something other than face masks and social distancing.
Photo credit: USA Today