Has the NFL Learned Anything From Other Pro Sports Leagues’ COVID-19 Returns?

Matt Breida (#20) of the Miami Dolphins trains with wide receiver coach Josh Grizzard during the team’s training camp at Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southern University on September 4, 2020, in Davie, Florida. Credit: Michael Reaves/Ge

On June 27, the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) became the first professional sports league to resume play in the U.S. after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early March. For the duration of the 23-game Challenge Cup, players from nine teams traveled to a pair of stadiums and two Salt Lake-area hotels in Utah to live, practice and play. In late July, both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) followed suit, setting up their respective game bubbles in Florida. More (inherently) socially distanced sports have also returned: National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) sped back onto the track in May, golfers returned to the green in August for the PGA Championship, and tennis pros hit the court on the last day of August to kick-off the two-week U.S. Open.

As the last professional sports league to come to an agreement, Major League Baseball (MLB) returned to fields all over the country in July for a shortened three-month season consisting of 60 games. The players in the league faced more challenges regarding social distancing than tennis and golf pros, but teams were resistant to the concept of playing in a limited number of cities and ballparks. Ahead of the season, the Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins all reported multiple players with positive COVID-19 results. Just days before the Washington Nationals’ season opener against the New York Yankees on July 24, Nationals player Juan Soto tested positive — and he certainly wasn’t the last player to catch the novel coronavirus. A few days into the season, New York Times writer Ken Belson declared baseball’s return — and subsequent coronavirus outbreak — to be "a cautionary tale for a league returning without sequestering players."

With the National Football League's (NFL) 2020 season currently in the playoffs, we can’t help but wonder if this full-contact sport, with its massive teams and staff and bubble-less game plan, has learned anything from MLB’s mismanaged return. Only time will tell if it was wise for the NFL football season to kick off during the pandemic, particularly after seeing baseball's results.