The Chicago Bears are scheduled to report to training camp in 6 weeks — but the coronavirus still looms. So how is this all going to work?

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During a volatile time in which racial tension across the nation have sparked complex and emotional discussions throughout the NFL, Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan was asked recently whether the social tumult could make it difficult to focus on football when practice resumes this summer.

Trevathan shook his head. Bigger concerns had been bouncing through his mind.

“I’m more worried about corona!” Trevathan said.

The unrest is something Trevathan said he feels equipped to handle. That other lurking danger?

“Let’s not forget about corona, bro!” Trevathan said.

At this point, in the NFL’s awkward and disrupted summer of 2020, that might be as appropriate a slogan as any, a catchphrase for the league to print on banners and hang from the entrances of all 32 team facilities.

The coronavirus pandemic has not disappeared.

Masks at the ready. Hand sanitizer nearby. Heads on a swivel.

Let’s not forget about corona, bro!

A return to the field seems imminent soon with teams still preparing to begin their training camps in late July. But then what?

How can all 32 organizations, with guidance from top medical experts, league officials and government agencies, find the proper protocol to balance the demands of getting ready for the season with the responsibility of prioritizing health and safety for players, coaches and team employees during a pandemic?

It’s the riddle with no clear solution, particularly in a sport in which distancing procedures are difficult to achieve.

Just about every play begins with a compact huddle and ends with a pileup of bodies. Snap after snap, collision after collision, snot, sweat and spit fly around from all angles.

So how can the NFL and its clubs make the 2020 season as safe as possible? With the clock ticking, the urgency to answer that question responsibly is heightening.

Commissioner Roger Goodell conceded Monday night that the league has never been aiming for a shutout.

“All of our medical experts indicated that as testing becomes more prevalent, we’re going to have positive tests,” Goodell said on ESPN’s “Return to Sports” special. “ … The issue is, obviously, can we prevent as many of those from happening? But in addition (can we) treat them quickly, isolate them and prevent them from impacting other personnel?”


Many players have already grown antsy, missing the grind of their usual offseason programs more than they ever thought they would. Bears safety Eddie Jackson flew back to Chicago from Florida last week and finds himself increasingly eager to get back to Halas Hall, to get back around his teammates, to get back to football the way he has forever loved it.

Organized team activities over Zoom were nice and all. But …

“I’d give up anything right now just to go sit in a meeting room, just to watch film with my teammates,” Jackson said.

In most years, training camp arrives too quickly. This year? It can’t come soon enough.

That eagerness to reunite, to resume practicing and meeting and screwing around in the locker room is natural. It’s also accompanied by new anxieties.

It seems likely that, at some point, someone at Halas Hall will test positive for the coronavirus, disrupting the Bears’ routine and threatening everyone’s peace of mind.

Still, within the organization, the range of concern is wide.

Trevathan realizes he never will be able to know for sure where the coronavirus might be lurking. And in a contact sport, the risks are obvious.

Added defensive lineman Akiem Hicks: “It is scary. It’s scary to think that most of my job requires physical contact with other players. So boy, I don’t know. I don’t know. I want to be safe. And I’m sure they’re going to do their best to make sure we’re in the best possible situation in order to be able to play this game and do it right. But it’s scary.”

Other teammates have seemed much less anxious. Receiver Allen Robinson and kicker Eddy Pineiro both expressed confidence that the NFL and the players union will develop a sensible plan.

The prospect of a busy locker room with players potentially in close proximity hasn’t yet unnerved Robinson. “That’s any kind of work environment,” he said. “Whether that’s a plant, whether that’s an office building, people are close up on each other every day they’re working together. So once everybody gets back to work with a good plan, everything will be fine. … My level of concern is pretty low.”


The NFL was never going to be bulletproof from COVID-19. That became obvious early on.

In March, Saints coach Sean Payton became the first NFL figure to publicly announce he had contracted the virus. Payton had been dealing with aches, chills and a low-grade fever when he opted to get examined. He tested positive for coronavirus and had his answer for why he had been feeling such intense fatigue.

Soon after, Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller developed a cough and figured he was just coming down with a cold. As a precaution, Miller decided to get tested for COVID-19 and quickly learned he was positive also.

Most alarming, Miller said, was that he had been taking many of the advised precautions in order to reduce his exposure. Aside from the occasional car ride to grab some carryout, Miller had been staying at home and not really seeing anyone.

“I wasn’t out. I wasn’t about,” he said on ESPN’s “NFL Live” shortly after his diagnosis. “And it hit me right here in my house.”

Miller has asthma and the virus initially affected his ability to breathe. He also told the Washington Post in May that his sense of taste and smell diminished and his appetite decreased.

Miller stopped working out for 2½ weeks and admitted he struggled to get his lungs back in shape. As mild as his case was, it also spurred him to speak out on the need for awareness and vigilance against such a dangerous disease.

Miller also admitted he’ll be nervous to return to work.

“I want to be safe,” he told the Washington Post. “I want to make sure I can still deliver football to the fans, but I want to do it as safe as possible. I’m not cutting any corners when it comes to that.”


Payton and Miller understand they were fortunate, that their cases were far from severe with quick recovery times. But their diagnoses also helped the league better understand there is no protection scheme strong enough to assure invincibility from the virus.

Positive cases will remain inevitable. That’s why this week’s revelations from the NFL Network that multiple players from the Cowboys and Texans had contracted the coronavirus was alarming but hardly a bombshell.

It’s going to happen.

Thus while taking measures to reduce case numbers will remain a top priority, the league also has to spend significant time and energy preparing response mechanisms for when new cases emerge.

In the coming weeks, the league and the NFL Players Association will have to iron out the details of how to implement reliable and efficient testing procedures — and revise them as needed.

The initial vision is for every player in the league to be tested multiple times per week. That frequency of testing should allow for quicker identification of positive cases, quicker isolation of infected players and, ideally, a reduced spread of the virus.

Over the last few months, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, has emphasized that it’s an impossible task to eliminate the risk of coronavirus contraction altogether. Because of that, Sills wants an intense focus to remain on the league’s mitigation efforts.

He has emphasized the need for the NFL to continue following the science, to heed the advice of public health officials and infectious disease experts. He has issued reminders that everyone in the league must remain flexible to an unpredictable and ever-changing landscape.

Preparation for a long list of hypotheticals has to begin now.

When one positive coronavirus case surfaces, what then?

What happens if three or four players on the same team test positive?

How will the NFL handle potential interruptions to its schedule?

How safe will players feel if the virus has affected someone in their building?

What will teams do to better protect older coaches and team personnel, who have a higher risk for complications from the virus?


Last week all 32 teams received a detailed memo that aimed to provide guidance for the uncertain road ahead. Every team is being asked to develop its own Infectious Disease Emergency Response Plan as a manual for if a positive coronavirus case arises.

The memo also asked all teams to require physical distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals inside team facilities. Clubs are also being asked to reconfigure their locker rooms to provide adequate spacing for everyone.

Once players return, strength and conditioning workouts will be limited to small groups of less than 15. The same goes for gatherings in the athletic trainer’s quarters. In addition, larger meetings will have to be conducted virtually or taken outdoors, with all participants wearing masks.

With all of those restrictions being discussed, what will be allowed during a practice?

So little of this will be normal. Everyone will need to adapt.

Bears running back Tarik Cohen revealed that he has known only one person who has contracted the coronavirus to this point. “And he beat it,” Cohen said.

Cohen then grinned.

“I feel like I’m immune,” he added. “Because I heal like Wolverine. So the virus can’t affect me. I’ll be good.”

That was a lighthearted quip, of course, with Cohen well aware of his and everyone else’s vulnerability. Still, it highlights the difficulty for players and teams in striking a proper balance between being cavalier and careless versus taking precaution to unnecessarily extreme levels.

The search for a healthy middle ground continues. So much uncertainty lingers.

Plans are needed. And the scheduled start of training camp is closing in.


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