The last time the NFL played, the world was still fairly normal. It was February 2 and the novel coronavirus was to the American public still mostly a mysterious disease overseas. There were nine confirmed cases in the United States.
And it’s not just coronavirus that has changed the football landscape.
For instance, the Arrowhead Stadium end zones have “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” inscribed on the boundary markers near the goal posts.
Houston players remained in the locker room.
While the NFL two seasons ago said players must stand or stay in the locker room, Goodell said last month he won’t discipline players for kneeling.
“The NFL stands with the Black community, the players, clubs and fans. Confronting systemic racism with tangible and productive steps is absolutely essential,” Goodell said last week in announcing league initiatives that include the end zone messages. “We will not relent in our work and we will redouble our efforts to be catalysts for the urgent and sustainable change that our society and communities so desperately need.”
There are more than 60 NFL players, including three from the Chiefs and one from the Texans, who have opted to miss every game of the season. That includes Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a Chiefs offensive lineman who has recently worked as an orderly in a long-term care facility in Canada and is studying online at Harvard’s school of public health.
In developing Covid-19 protocols with the players’ union, the NFL made the decision to let teams train in their home cities and play in their own stadiums, a different approach than the NBA “bubble” and the NHL’s hub sites in Edmonton and Toronto.
The NFL tests players every day, according to media reports, citing a league memo. In the latest results, one player and seven team personnel tested positive for the virus between August 30 and September 5, a total of 44,510 tests. Between August 12 and 29, four players tested positive.
Game day will be different too. Some teams, such as the Chiefs, will allow fans, but most have said they will play at least two home games in empty stadiums. Arrowhead holds 76,000, but only 22% of the seats, about 17,000, will be filled tonight.
Even tailgating will have a coronavirus wrinkle, with vehicles using every other spot and pregame festivities in the parking lot limited to “pods.”
CNN’s David Close, Kevin Dotson and Wayne Sterling contributed to this report.