In a season that was unlike any other, some things remained the same: Tom Brady found a way to win the Super Bowl, and my Cincinnati Bengals had another miserable season.
Obviously, what made this season different were the challenges the NFL saw as a result of the pandemic including games played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, players wearing masks on the sidelines, constant testing and uncertainty as to who would be playing and who wouldn’t. Maybe the most striking were the games played in mostly empty stadiums.
Don't mistake this as praise heaped on the NFL for playing an entire season during a virus that has killed north of 460,000 Americans. In reality, the NFL’s resources would have been better spent on the frontlines than on the sidelines. Nonetheless, I love the NFL and was glad for the distraction the season provided. I watched it, I bet on it, I read about it, I wrote about it, I screamed because of it. I even, on the rare occasion the Bengals did something good, cheered because of it.
The word I would use to describe this season that just passed is “necessary.” Not necessary because it was essential but necessary because the season brought some semblance of normalcy into our lives. NFL football gave fans like me the escape they needed from the disappointments and struggles of the pandemic, which have not ceased.
Since the first stay-at-home order was put into place, we have been asking, “When will we get back to normal?” Nobody knows the answer but watching football on Sundays was “normal.” Maybe, I’m just speaking for myself but spending all day in Zoom meetings was draining, and NFL games were something to look forward to.
What the NFL just accomplished was logistically impressive. During the season, the number of tests the NFL administered was estimated to be over 1 million. The positivity rate was under 0.1 percent, or 329 confirmed cases. For comparison, the positivity rate in America during the same time was around 7%.
Obviously, NFL players were under much stricter protocols than the average American. The average American wasn’t tested for COVID-19 every day and most workplaces don’t have the strict rules or funding of NFL facilities.
But we could look to the NFL as an example of a group effort to contain the virus. They just played a full season of a sport in which mask-wearing is difficult and social distancing is impossible with a very limited number of positive cases. They showed what could happen if everyone agrees to follow strict procedures.
The NFL has a ton of flaws it needs to acknowledge and address ranging from diversity issues in front offices and coaching staffs to domestic violence. COVID-19, however, they seem to have gotten right. They can be applauded for how they kept their players safe while they produced a great on-field product.
I attended a number of Bengals’ games this season, the only live entertainment in which I have participated in a long time. I felt safe with the features they had in place and that helped me get through 2020. It’s been a week, and I’m ready to start talking about next season. Here’s to 2021.
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