How Will The NFL Deal With Positive COVID Tests?

World class athletes are not immune.

Jim Rome
June 16, 2020 - 9:21 am
Ezekiel Elliott

USA Today

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It started yesterday with a report from Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero that multiple members of the Texans and Cowboys had tested positive for Covid. The belief was that none of the players had been at the team facility and the teams have been following the appropriate health protocols.

And of course the moment you see a report like that, the question comes up: who is it? Who are the guys who tested positive?

And then shortly after the initial report came the word that one of those players is Ezekiel Elliott. According to report, his agent confirmed the positive test to the NFL Network.

And in terms of players from both teams who could test positive, the names don’t get much bigger than that.

Elliott tweeted: HIPAA??

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is designed to protect your personal health information from being shared publicly without you first giving consent. But that generally only applies to professionals in the healthcare field.

As Michael McCann tweeted: Journalists reporting on NFL players who test positive for COVID-19 aren't covered entities under HIPAA and so aren't violating HIPAA. Often employers and representatives (outside of those in health care) aren't covered entities, either. And HIPAA has no private right of action.

But that didn’t stop Elliott from being pissed. And I get it. Somebody let the cat out of the bag, but who? Because Elliott is saying it wasn’t his agent.

And then: My agent only confirmed. The story was already written. Reporters had been called my agent all morning.

Note: reporters, not a reporter. So does that mean that multiple people had the story? It had leaked out that much?

And finally: My agent didn’t break the story to the media

Let’s clear up something before it starts – this isn’t about that party that allegedly did or did not happen earlier in the offseason. That was two months ago. If Elliott got it there, he would be over it by now.

But this news is significant not just because it’s a Pro Bowl running back who tested positive, but because it’s multiple players who tested positive and that’s before players have gotten together. They haven’t even assembled as a group yet, they haven’t even had the chance to expose each other to the illness, and multiple players already have it.

And it is a reminder that there is still a pandemic going on. It’s still happening. People are still getting sick. People are still going to the hospital because of Covid. And people are still dying because of Covid. 

According to CBS News, Texas recorded its highest number hospitalizations during the outbreak this past weekend. In other words, you might be tired of Covid-19, but Covid-19 is not tired of you.

And it raises the question: how is this going to affect the NFL? So far, the league’s approach has seemed to be just barrel ahead and act like nothing is going to be different. Make some offseason activities online instead of in person, but don’t delay the draft, don’t delay the season, just keep rolling.

The Cowboys are scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame game in just over 50 days. And as Ed Werder reported, he has spoken to two NFL head coaches who are reluctant to start the season on time. As one head coach told Werder: “How the hell are you going to bring 90 guys to training camp on a bus? You can have all the protocols you want, but eventually, football, 1 in 10 guys get it. Do you quarantine the whole team?”

That is a very good and very fair question. Forget games, how do you even practice and prepare for games without having guys in close, physical contact? What kind of an impact will that have on preparation for games and how the games are played?

And what happens if a player or multiple players test positive? I mean, you can’t really quarantine a whole team, right? Not if you want to continue a season. But what if it’s not a whole team? What if it’s a particular group of guys on the team who get sick?

As another head coach said “You know, what happens when four starting offensive linemen get it? What if it's the quarterback room? Four of your six receivers? The defensive coaching staff?”

Bruce Arians has already talked about quarantining a quarterback this season. He told Chris Long that he’s thinking about keeping the third quarterback on the roster out of the quarterback room, so that if Tom Brady and the backup get sick, you don’t lose all three at once.

Just because you might not be thinking about it, NFL head coaches are. And they’re concerned and it points to the conversation that nobody wants to have.

Nobody wants to think about the possibility of the NFL season being delayed. And maybe it never comes to that. But what if it did? What if Ezekiel Elliott had tested positive in October instead of June? What if these multiple Texans and Cowboys had tested positive in Week 1 instead of the start of summer? What then?

Right now, the thinking seems to be that everyone is acknowledging that there is risk involved. Players will get sick, they will test positive, and the league will go on. But it will go on while there is a pandemic is going on and it would be amazing if that pandemic didn’t have an impact. Because it will. Because world class athletes are not immune. Ask Ezekiel Elliott.  Ask Von Miller. Ask Rudy Gobert. Believe me, no one wants this to go away more than I do; no one wants the NFL to resume normal activity more than I do. But if you’re waiting for the all-clear, a sign that is everything is good and life is back to normal and people aren’t going to get sick, that hasn’t happened yet.  And it may not happen for quite some time