NFL, Covid and BtB

Each time the subject of COVID has come up in the discussion on BtB, I've purposely stayed out of it. It's a hot button issue, to say the least -€” perhaps even a "third rail" that can and has ended friendships and caused rifts among family members. I personally don't think those discussions belong here, but since it is impacting the NFL and our Cowboys in particular, it is no surprise that it has reared its ugly head. I also think it is of no surprise to anyone here that the discussions are heated. After all, we get a bit heated up about football, which is just a game of no consequence to any of us in the grand scheme of things. In stark contrast, COVID and the associated vaccines have affected all of us personally, some to the highest possible extreme of losing friends or family forever. Not even an Emmitt vs Barry argument can generate the same kind of emotion from a Cowboys fan.

I have no intention whatsoever of arguing an opinion, on either side, regarding COVID or the vaccines. However, I do believe the NFL has a COVID policy problem and that problem allows this ugly argument to infiltrate our beloved sport and team. I don't know about the rest of you, but watching the Cowboys is an escape from the real world, much like a good book or a movie. While I'm watching the game, or even just commenting on BtB, I'm focused on that and not all the troubles in the world. So, seeing a COVID argument in the comments just ticks me off to be honest.

I've read the NFL COVID-19 Protocols for 2021. If you haven't and are interested, it's here and here. The protocols are well intended -€” to prevent the spread of the virus to protect players, staff, etc. That said, it has the feel of being defensive and punitive (follow this or else and if you don't it's not our fault because we warned you). In my opinion, the document is written more like a legally binding contract than an instruction manual for teams to follow. That leads one (me) to question whether it's working, and if not is it because it's too complicated? I suppose the answer depends on a person's opinion. Test results from the period of October 31 through November 13 had 34 positive tests for players and 47 positive tests for staff, for an overall rate of 1.2% (you can find this if you go looking for it). That test positivity rate is well below the positive rate across the US (Florida currently has the lowest rate at around 3%). Some will look at this and say the protocol clearly works. Others might look at the 34 players and 47 staff and say that's too many. After the past week or so, Cowboys fans would likely say either the protocol doesn't work well enough or the Cowboys are doing a poor job of following it. Either way, it is fodder for the ugly discussion to invade BtB, but neither answer is the actual problem in my mind.

I think the problem is poor or a flat-out lack of communication from the NFL regarding players placed on the COVID list and coaches being ruled out of games. The NFL is simply not providing enough information in an easily accessible location when it comes to COVID. This leads to speculation, accusations, and arguments. If we simply had more information that was also easy to find, I think there would be less to argue about, thus limiting these COVID related blow-ups.

First, the NFL's protocols are not easily found on their webpage. A Google search will find it pretty easily, but if you go on, it's multiple clicks away from the home page and you have to know where you are going: Players -> Health and Safety (near the bottom of this page you'll find the 2020 season protocols) -> Health and Wellness and it's currently near the top over to the right.

Second, when a player is ruled out of a game or placed on IR due to an injury, we know every small detail -€” the initial report might be "knee", but soon after we know exactly which part, whether it's a strain/sprain/partial tear/complete tear, whether surgery is needed and what type and approximately how long the player will be out. Quick experiment: Go to to find players on IR. It's 3 clicks from the home page and it's intuitive: Players->Transactions->Reserve List. How about who's out or questionable for this week? Also easy: Players->Injuries and you get the report for this week (it's empty right now for this week). Now, find the COVID list on -€” if you found it, you did better than I. You would have to read through the press releases. Even then, the mention of the player or coach being vaccinated or not, being actually symptomatic or not is random -€” sometimes it's there, sometimes not.

Let's go one more step -€” why was Mike McCarthy automatically ruled out Thursday's game? He's vaccinated, which means he only needs to have 2 negative tests 24 hours apart to be able to be back with the team. If he was tested on Monday (which he was), then a negative test on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, he would be ready for Thursday's game, meaning he shouldn't have been ruled out until Tuesday after another positive test. So, what's up? Well, that's not exactly how it works and you have to go looking. First, all the way down on page 84 of the NFL protocols, it says a fully vaccinated person with a positive test has to be asymptomatic AND have 2 negative tests -€” that means he has to be asymptomatic prior to the first of the two tests. So, McCarthy would have to have already been asymptomatic at the time of the test on Monday. Second, other press releases regarding McCarthy stated he was experiencing some symptoms, but not the release on Plainly stated -€” the NFL leaves us guessing.

Other media outlets seem able to dig up most of the relevant information. This website has a comprehensive list for every single team, including coaches. The same website also has a nice 6-bullet summary of the protocols (compare that to the NFL's 100+ page document). It also shows, when available, the reason for being placed on the list.

Why is this? Why wouldn't the NFL have an easy-to-understand protocol summary along with a current COVID list, including all details surrounding the player or coach's return all in an easily found location on their own official web page? No idea and I won't speculate about some conspiracy, but I do wish the NFL would fix it. I'd rather argue about football.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.