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NFL issues protocols for when players are allowed to return to facilities

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a news conference in 2018
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued an in-depth memo to the 32 teams Monday morning, outlining the protocols for when players are allowed to return to team facilities.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

The NFL will look very different this season.

Commissioner Roger Goodell issued an in-depth memo to the 32 clubs Monday morning, outlining the protocols for when players are allowed to return to team facilities.

Everyone will wear masks. There will be dedicated entrances with automated doors for the exclusive use of players and coaches. Whenever possible, teams will conduct virtual meetings, and those that are in-person will take place outdoors in masks. “High touch” surfaces will be professionally cleaned at least three times per day. There will be at least six feet of space between lockers.

Those are but a few of the many rules outlined in the memo, a system agreed upon by the NFL and the NFL Players Assn.

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“While these protocols have been carefully developed and are based on the most current information from leading experts, no set of protocols can eliminate the risk of contracting Covid-19,” Goodell writes in a series of memos obtained by The Times, “nor ensure that the disease itself will be mild. And we should expect that these protocols will change as the medical and scientific knowledge of this disease continues to grow.”

The NFL is operating under the assumption that the season will be played as scheduled, but COVID-19 has created many challenges for the league.

Last month, the league released its 2020 schedule, which was constructed in such a way that entire weeks of games could be moved or eliminated. But the expectation is the league will play a full schedule. The regular season is scheduled to open Sept. 10 with the champion Kansas City Chiefs playing host to the Houston Texans.

In a typical year, teams conduct a three-day post-draft mini-camp in early May, have organized team activities in mid-May, and open preseason training camp for first-year players in mid-July, with veterans reporting a week later. The first preseason game, the Hall of Fame game, is scheduled for Aug. 6 between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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As it is, team employees and coaches are able to return to their facilities as long as doing so is permitted by state and local authorities and strict NFL guidelines are followed — including that no more than 50% of employees are in a facility at the same time. Players have yet to be cleared to return, except those receiving physical treatment.

The rules issued Monday separated employees into three categories. Tier 1 includes players, coaches, trainers and physicians. Tier 2 includes owners, general managers, club facility staff, and public relations. Tier 3 consists of individuals who perform essential facility, stadium, or event services but do not require close contact with Tier 1 individuals.

A sampling of the protocols:

Teams must maintain at least a two-week supply of surgical or cloth masks, which all players and club staff must wear inside the facility. Hand sanitizer and other hygiene materials must be available in all areas of the facility.

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While the coronavirus outbreak will make for a unique 2020 season, the Rams endured a pair of unusual seasons in the 1980s.

There will be a sufficient supply of single-use water bottles or disposable bottles so players do not share them. Meeting rooms will be cleaned before and after each use.

Tier 1 and 2 individuals will be screened daily before entering club facilities, including having their temperatures taken with contactless thermometers.

Strength and conditioning workouts must be limited to groups of 15 people or fewer, and the athletic training staff must require individual, staggered player appointments instead of a single time for large groups to arrive.

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In-person meetings that do not permit physical distancing are prohibited. Communal use of materials, devices, or supplies during meetings is prohibited. Any administrative, playbook, and advanced work will be conducted on personal electronic devices.

Facilities will be closed for 48 hours for a professional deep cleaning before players return, and will receive a hospital-grade cleaning on a daily basis.

Wrote Goodell: “[W]e believe, along with the NFLPA, that these protocols offer a sound basis for bringing players back into the facilities and moving forward with our planning for the 2020 season.”


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