Opinion: The NFL must work harder to punish franchises that don’t crack down on COVID-19 outbreaks

Before the NFL started its season in September, questions were raised about how the league would handle the ongoing global pandemic.

Would fan attendance be limited?

Would players wear special masks?

How often would people within the NFL’s organizations be tested for COVID-19?

For the first few weeks of the season, things looked fine. It wasn’t until the campaign’s third week that problematic dominos started to fall.

Things started unraveling when Tennessee Titans defensive back Greg Mabin tested positive for COVID-19. Shane Bowen, Titans outside linebackers coach, also tested positive for the virus two days later.

Since those first two cases, the Titans have seen a total of 24 positive tests. It’s currently the first known COVID-19 outbreak in the NFL.

The Titans aren’t the only franchise to have issues with the coronavirus; the New England Patriots also had some setbacks when quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore received positive tests. But the situation with the Titans seems a lot worse because of the impact it’s having on the rest of the league.

While the world watched what was unfolding around the NFL’s first coronavirus outbreak, the Titans continued to make bad decisions. Some of the team’s players gathered at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, to hold a practice.

On Oct. 4, the Titans were scheduled to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was confusion around the league about whether the teams would have their game rescheduled a few days later or to a completely different date.

The league decided to move the contest to Oct. 25, essentially giving the Steelers a bye week earlier than the originally planned Nov. 1 bye week.

Tennessee’s facilities had been closed for over a week until Saturday, when players were allowed to practice before their Tuesday contest against the Buffalo Bills.

On Sunday, Tennessee closed its facilities again after another staff member tested positive.

I know the NFL was prepared to be flexible before it started the season due to the unprecedented circumstances in our world, but it seems like some of these teams are being ridiculous with their understanding of the rules.

If a team has one or two players test positive for the virus, they can at least contain the spread and have those players spend some time away from their teams. But an outbreak is much harder to stop.

It doesn’t help when some of these teams make irresponsible decisions like gathering when they were told not to. I understand players have to stay conditioned and maintain chemistry when they have extended time off, but they have to understand that this season is unlike any other they’ve played in.

As of last Friday, there was talk around the league that the Titans would face significant punishment from the league for continuing to break protocols after their outbreak. I think punishing the franchise would be a good call.

The NFL has things under control for now, but things could get rocky if more outbreaks continue to pop up. The last thing the sports world wants to happen is the cancellation of an NFL season.

@c_amaya7

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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