COVID-19 has made its first dent in the young NFL season, with Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans postponed after nine positive coronavirus tests of Titans players and staffers.
The game, scheduled for 1PM on Sunday, is expected to be played on Monday or Tuesday.
In the days following Tennessee’s win last weekend over the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis, four Titans players and five non-players with the team tested positive for COVID-19. No players or staffers with the Vikings have tested positive.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Wednesday that some of the players who tested positive were experiencing flu-like symptoms, according to a report by ESPN. The Titans have closed their team facilities until Saturday.
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“I know there’s going to be a lot of questions about the game and about who’s to blame and where it started. Nobody’s to blame. We’re in a pandemic,” ESPN quoted Vrabel as saying. “This is a very unfortunate situation, but one that we’re confident that we will be able to handle safely with the football team and the players’ best interests in mind.”
The NFL began its season on schedule earlier this month after its pre-season was truncated due to the pandemic and featured a select number of positive tests among the league’s 32 teams. While skeptics, including national infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that football would be the most difficult sport to play during the pandemic, the NFL has managed to avoid serious issues until now. All but a handful of the league’s teams have banned fans from their home stadiums.
Other sports have fared well in resuming, with the NHL executing more than 30,000 COVID-19 tests without a single positive during its Canadian bubble season, which wrapped up Monday. The NBA Finals begin tonight in the bubble set up in Orlando, FL, with the league largely containing the virus once the season began in July.
Major League Baseball, like the NFL, did not play its season in a bubble set-up, leading to numerous small outbreaks during the regular season. Its month-long playoff rounds began Tuesday.
Billions of dollars in revenue are at stake for televised sports, with networks paying hefty rights fees but also commanding high rates from advertisers. That economic reality has driven many decisions about resuming play at a time when 40,000 Americans a day are contracting COVID-19 and a vaccine remains months away from widespread adoption.
College football is also subject to the same TV imperative, which has led all but a few schools to take the field or plan their seasons to start in October despite many campuses being closed to students due to the pandemic.