Opinion: We shouldn’t have football this year
This will be one of my most unpopular columns ever. Still, someone has to state the obvious: We should not play football in the midst of this pandemic in fall 2020. That goes for the pros and college, and doubly for high schools. Answering the question of “Why not?” is an exercise in both the statistics of the pandemic and the nature of the game.
The World Health Organization is reporting over 10 million people worldwide currently infected with the novel coronavirus. The number in the U.S. is 2.6 million, with more than 128,000 deaths, and the numbers are still growing. Health officials estimate that the actual number may be 10 times what has been reported due to the lack of testing in many parts of the country.
Health professionals tell us there is no cure available for the highly contagious coronavirus. How can you avoid getting it? Without a vaccine that keeps one from getting the virus in the first place, the only defense we have is wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from other people. It should be obvious to everyone that playing football is not conducive to such measures.
Clemson University, a football team that has won two of the past four collegiate national championships, has reported that 38 members of their football team have tested positive for the coronavirus. With an active roster of 110 players, that number is more than 40% of the squad. Though many colleges are not reporting such information, it is safe to say that many college football teams have players who are currently infected with the virus.
We publicize that football is a contact sport. Coaches like to say, “Dancing is a contact sport, football is a collision sport.” Indeed it is. The nature of the game makes social distancing impossible. Let’s look closer at the various positions.
Offensive and defensive linemen generally line up helmet to helmet down the line of scrimmage. They are barely 6 inches apart. When the ball is snapped, they collide in an explosion of muscle excess and heavy breathing. Defensive ends have the primary responsibility of containing the running backs and rushing the passer. Both responsibilities result in face-to-face contact. Running backs generally carry the ball five to 25 times in a game. If they could score on every play they might be exempt from virus contamination. Unfortunately, very few of their runs result in touchdowns. Most running plays end with a tangled mass of human flesh with the ball carrier on the bottom of the pile and everyone breathing heavy from the exertion of chasing him down.
Even the huddles which occur periodically throughout the game bring 11 heavy breathing players in close proximity to each other to hear the quarterback’s call of the next play. Speaking of quarterbacks, the primary task of every defensive player is to find a way to collide with the quarterback, preferably 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and before he can throw the ball.
What about the spectators? Some say, “Seat spectators 6 feet apart,” “Play the games without fans in the stands, ” “Make the game a TV only presentation.” That would mean that the majority of fans who want to participate in supporting their favorite teams could not be included. What a “downer” for an enthusiastic fan base.
Football has become our national game. Each fall we fill stadiums from coast to coast with spectators who have come to get their weekly “fix.” Unfortunately, that fix runs the risk of personal tragedies for both players and spectators. If even 10% of our players become infected and only 1% die, we could be looking at a tragedy of gigantic proportions, easily preventable.
No, the only viable solution for the safety of the players and the public is to call it all off for 2020. Then we can anticipate a vaccine being developed between now and 2021 that will put this pandemic to rest and get us back to normal.
You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at email@example.com.