The NFL bubble, or lack thereof, just burst



Malcolm Butler #21 of the Tennessee Titans players runs onto the field during pregame before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium on Sept. 20, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Steelers vs. Titans game is being postponed to later in the season after members of the Titans tested positive for COVID-19. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images/TNS)

Essex Thayer

At the outset of the season, the NFL appeared to be setting the standard when it came to COVID-19 testing and safety. According to ESPN, during the preseason, the NFL conducted an astounding 109,075 tests across players, coaches and staff. Only 502 of those tests came back positive for a .46% positivity rate. For a league working without a bubble, this was considered a massive victory and a sign that they could safely continue with a regular season. 

The first sign of potential obstacles for the NFL came from an unlikely group, the coaches. In three weeks, the NFL has already fined Vic Fangio, Jon Gruden, Sean Payton, Kyle Shanahan and Pete Carroll $100,000 each for consistently not wearing their masks on the sidelines. Following the fines, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent released a strong warning to all teams, including a passage which says the NFL will “address lack of compliance with accountability measures that may include … suspensions and/or forfeiture of draft picks.” Vincent also acknowledged that further missteps by coaches and players “will put the 2020 season at risk.” 

A day after Vincent’s letter was sent to the league, the Las Vegas Raiders put the NFL under further scrutiny. Several players, including stars Derek Carr and Hunter Renfroe, were seen not wearing masks at an indoor charity event for Darren Waller’s youth drug and alcohol addiction prevention organization. Henderson Police fined the venue for disregarding local COVID protocols. “We weren’t perfect, but we weren’t trying to be careless or reckless,” commented Derek Carr the next day to USA Today.

On Friday, the NFL moved a football game for the first time due to COVID-19. Following an outbreak within the Titans organization that included 13 positive tests, the NFL rescheduled their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for later in October. Week four was treated as a bye week for both teams, and they lost their later scheduled week off. After the announcement of the schedule change, the NFL also reported an extension of daily testing amongst the league.

On the morning of Oct. 3, it was reported that Cam Newton, the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, had tested positive for COVID-19. Jordan Ta’amu, a practice squad quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, also tested positive. Both teams conducted mass testing and found that no other players within the organization had the coronavirus. The game, originally scheduled to be played on Sunday, was rescheduled by the NFL to take place on Monday night, without Newton and Ta’amu.

This past week’s events leave the league and all organizations questioning what the season will look like going forward. If games move ahead as planned, teams still fear for an ability to compete on the field while losing players off of it. Kevin Byard of the Titans put it best. 

“At the end of the day, the safest team and the healthiest team this year is going to be the one that’s going to be playing in January and February,” he said.