Most changes to policy that the NFL enacts make sense.
The latest decision does not, outside of optics.
The league decided to not have sideline reporters, cheerleaders or mascots when play resumes. This decision does next to nothing to prevent COVID transmission. It is akin to not allowing football play but ban post game jersey exchanges.
Not having any fans would be a more meaningful step of social distancing.
If a team has a solid limited attendance plan that passed mustard, it could work but in general fans in stands are magnitudes more potentially dangerous than KC Wolf for the Chiefs. After all his costume is already the ultimate in social distancing. Furthermore, a sideline reporter, cheerleader and mascot are exponentially easier to control than fans. Add in another level of difficulty for intoxicated fans.
None of these newly banned people are ever anywhere near the players on the field or on the sidelines. The “box” within the 30 yard lines is exclusive to players, coaches and direct team staff. In my almost two decades on an NFL sideline, I never came with six feet of a sideline reporter, cheerleader or mascot on the field.
Of course, most people won’t care about the placement of a ‘sideline reporter.’ If the broadcast needs one, that person can be in the stands. If there were no fans, the cheerleaders aren’t needed. The same can be said for the mascot. But the league is allowing fans, just no entertainers.
Certainly the game will go on without these three elements, but my point it this is not stopping the spread of COVID.
With viral load as the main means of transmission, the banning of post-game jersey exchanges for optics sake turns out to be a bad look. Instead the NFL should just mandate a mask prior to the post game handshakes (or elbow bumps).
There still with be dozens of people on each sideline in addition to players. Medical staff, equipment staff, runners, security, chain gang, camera people, TV operatives, logistics and many more. The average person would be surprised. This current limitation is a drop in the bucket.
The new travel plans make sense but largely unchanged from what teams already do. Indeed travel is a big part of potential SARS-CoV-2 risk. The biggest change is smaller travel parties and no more doubling up on hotel rooms.
Overall, the NFL has come a long way. Just a month ago, John Harbaugh used the words “humanly impossible.” Sean McVay didn’t understand how we could play. Multiple star players were tweeting their worry and protests on reporting to camp. Now, Harbaugh embraces the changes, McVay is on board as seen in “Hard Knocks” and players seem happy with low infection numbers.
This will be a season of change. Some for reality, some for optics. I am just glad there we look to have NFL football and starting on time with all the college football turmoil.