Tennessee Titans COVID outbreak threatens game vs. Bills and maybe the NFL season
The Titans have recorded 23 positive tests so far
The Tennessee Titans COVID-19 outbreak has shut down the team’s activities for the moment and that includes potentially their scheduled meeting with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. But as the outbreak expands, and with the recent positive tests for New England star players Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore, it begs the question – should the NFL even continue to play?
The Titans outbreak, which began with positive tests that were revealed on Sept. 29, is now at 23, including players and staff. The team has closed their facility and the rescheduled, so far, their Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But now with the Bills on the schedule for Sunday, postponing that game creates a domino effect as the Bills are also set for the Thursday night name next week, the official NFL website reports. The Titans didn’t play last Sunday because the game was postponed due to COVID.
The team is also being investigated for breaching NFL COVID protocols because several players participated in an unsanctioned workout once their facility was closed. According to CNN, NFL investigators were sent to Tennesse after it was discovered that a group of players worked out at Montgomery Bell Academy as they’ve done in the past, the academy’s headmaster Brad Giola confirmed.
The Titans, who were one playoff victory from the Super Bowl last season, were 3-0 before the outbreak.
But now they are facing a season on the brink as everything from severe penalties for not following COVID guidelines to a possible forfeit of the upcoming game is on the table. At issue is that the workout, among other possible breaches, could not have been possible without someone in the team’s leadership knowing about it and that, according to The Athletic, the Titans were lax about enforcing rules, putting the season in jeopardy.
“Somewhere, there has to be some captains of the team who meet with the head coach and say they are thinking about doing this, and the coach says not to do it, that getting together in a big group probably is not a good idea,” an unnamed NFL executive told The Athletic.
The NFL believed that a bubble, which worked for the NBA, was impractical given that NFL teams have 53-man active player rosters as well as 16 men on the practice squad, not including coaches and other team personnel that would have to live in isolation of some kind for up to six months. Instead, daily COVID testing has been the rule, but given the realities of having to monitor the daily activities of thousands of people involved in some way with 32 NFL teams, it seems miraculous that it worked as well as it has though Week 5. Players have, with their salaries and careers on the line, either opted out of the season or opted in with the restrictions in mind.
“It’s not going to be easy, man, it will take all of us,” Eagles corner Darius Slay told The Philadelphia Inquirer recently. “My true opinion, I felt like we shouldn’t have had [a season] just because of what was going on. It’s a difficult time, but like I said, we’re all making sacrifices and we made them.”
Still, the Titans outbreak illustrates not just the ongoing difficulty but the ripples of a COVID outbreak through a league already losing money with limited or zero fans in the stands. Even head coaches had to be reprimanded about mask-wearing, leading to fines for the coaches and their teams last month.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, and Broncos coach Vic Fangio were personally fined $100K apiece and each team was fined 250K. Several Las Vegas Raiders players, including starting quarterback Derek Carr, and others attended teammate Darren Waller’s charity event in Las Vegas and were disciplined internally for being photographed without protective masks. The players apologized for their oversight.
But it’s easy to let your guard down. The league’s Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes isolated himself from his pregnant fianceé after exchanging a friendly post-game hug Monday night with Gilmore, who tested positive for COVID-19 days later.
If the Titans are found to have flouted protocol, NFL insiders expect their punishment to be harsh. The NFL is a billion-dollar industry with multiple money-making tentacles including TV broadcasts of games, TV and radio sports talk shows, fantasy football apps and leagues and legal gambling, among others, that would be cataclysmically impacted by a cancelled season. That includes, of course, player salaries, bonuses and endorsement opportunities.
“You start with the idea that the NFL is not going to jeopardize the season and they are willing to extremely punish one team as a deterrent for everybody else to recognize there will be severe consequences, including in your won-loss column, if you do not follow the protocols, because the one thing they need is to have all or nearly all the games played,” an NFL executive who spoke under the condition of anonymity told The Athletic.
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