Section: Sports

NFL begins regular season; most teams leave fans at home

NFL begins regular season; most teams leave fans at home

All NFL stadiums will remain empty, excluding Arrowhead Stadium and TIAA Bank Field. | VIA PIXABAY.COM

Cardboard cutouts, teddy bears and digital stand-ins: To sports fans across the country, these have become the new normal, filling the stands and bleachers of every big game. Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States in late February and temporarily shut down live sports, every professional sports league has had to work with new restrictions. So far, every professional sports league has decided to play without fans in attendance. The NBA, MLS and NHL have successfully implemented isolated campuses in order to minimize exposure. The MLB chose to play out the remainder of their season as planned. So where does the NFL stand? 

The 2020 NFL season began on Thursday, Sept. 10, when defending Super Bowl LIV champions the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans. Across the country, 20.3 million fans tuned in from laptops and big screens, wondering about how the pandemic will affect the NFL’s product. The NFL is allowing each of its 32 teams and local officials to decide if fans can attend their home games. They will travel to opposing stadiums for away games as they normally would. Currently, teams such as the Arizona Cardinals, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos have established a wait-and-see policy: The teams released statements that they will be working with state officials and adhering to local, state, Center for Disease Control and NFL guidelines in order to have fans attend games in-person. 

While there are simple answers for most fans who are watching from home –– including wearing a mask and social distancing while cheering on their favorite teams –– it looks a little different for the players themselves. On the Tuesday ahead of Week 1, the NFL and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) announced players’ testing results from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5. Of the 44,510 tests administered to a total of 8,349 players and team personnel, one player and seven personnel tested positive for COVID-19, making the combined positive testing rate across the league far less than one percent. 

Players who test positive and those who have come into contact with them are placed on a Reserve/COVID-19 list. In order to return to play, players must receive two negative tests within 24 hours of one another, agree to increased symptom monitoring and experience eight days of daily virus testing. Players may also be fined for “reckless behavior away from the team facility,” such as attending an indoor entertainment event or club without wearing a mask. 

Players who did not want to participate in the 2020 season were able to opt-out before Aug. 6. Some players who opted out include Dont’a Hightower of the New England Patriots, Eddie Goldman of the Chicago Bears, Marquise Goodwin of the Philadelphia Eagles and Nate Solder of the New York Giants. 

As for fans, only two teams, the Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars, have elected to host a reduced number of fans for their games to ensure social distancing. They are requiring fans to wear masks at all times. In Thursday night’s game in Kansas City, fans filled only about 22 percent of Arrowhead Stadium’s capacity. For now, the remaining stadiums are featuring piped-in crowd noise during games and pre-recorded or remote performances of the National Anthem. Stands will be empty for most upcoming games –– but, as of Sept. 15, none have been postponed or canceled.

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