There are many ways in which the 2020 NFL season may look different from those played in the very recent past. Empty stadiums would be one potential difference. Whether or not the season is even played is a pretty big one. But even the way the players look could be different heading into this year.
All in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is obviously a major concern, especially with the virtual impossibility of there being a vaccine available in time for the scheduled start of the NFL season. So the league is doing everything it can to help mitigate that—short of cancelling games, of course.
According to Adam Schefter, the league has already been exploring the production of modified facemasks for a while now, with the Oakley, a sports equipment company that has also worked with the military, charged with coming up with prototypes that will incorporate personal protective equipment into the design.
Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci called football “the perfect set up for spreading” the coronavirus. He was speaking to Peter King, but that doesn’t convey the tone of the conversation, and in fact he offered plenty of hope that a season would be played. This is, nevertheless, what he said about football and transmission risk:
Sweat does not do it. This is a respiratory virus, so it’s going to be spread by shedding virus. The problem with virus shedding is that if I have it in my nasal pharynx, and it sheds and I wipe my hand against my nose—now it’s on my hand. You see, then I touch my chest or my thigh, then it’s on my chest or my thigh for at least a few hours. Sweat as such won’t transmit it. But if people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that’s the perfect set up for spreading. I would think that if there is an infected football player on the field—a middle linebacker, a tackle, whoever it is it—as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person.
As he said, you’re not going to transfer the virus simply from sweating on somebody. Rubbing your hand on an infected surface is not automatically going to mean you’re going to be infected, either. It’s when you touch your hand to your face and allow the virus to enter your body through your eyes, mouth, nose, or other entryway that you expose yourself to infection.
Incorporating some type of protective facemask into the standard uniform would serve as some layer of protection. Thom Mayer, the NFLPA medical director, still advised players who might be as increased risk “to be zealous, religious, and frankly, almost maniacally committed to minimizing the chance of spreading the virus”.