Fauci pushes back at critics over his pessimism about NFL season

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Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist, said he’s been mistakenly painted as an obstacle to the National Football League’s upcoming season and only gave its officials advice after they requested it.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said he was consulted by the NFL as it searches for a way to preserve the safety of players and the public during the pandemic.

“I haven’t set any strict conditions or other directions for the football league,” Fauci said in an interview. “They have come to me and asked me from a medical standpoint a bunch of questions about risks. They are a very competent group of people and they will make up their own minds.”

Fauci told CNN last week that the league’s season may not be played if there’s a resurgence in cases, unless players are essentially kept in a “bubble” isolating them from others and tested almost every day. U.S. President Donald Trump said later in a tweet that he told the scientist that he has “nothing to do with football.”

The football league is “planning a very safe and controlled opening,” Trump said in another tweet. Football is the most popular U.S. professional sport by fan viewership.

Trump has consistently sidelined health officials, including Deborah Birx and others on his handpicked coronavirus task force, while pushing for businesses and schools to return to operation. He’s minimized the impact of the pandemic, employing a racist slur in calling it the “Kung flu” in a rally in Oklahoma on Saturday, and saying that the high number of U.S. cases is primarily due to aggressive testing.

The NFL incident was one of several in which Trump openly disagreed with Fauci, who has led NIAID for almost four decades, overseeing the government research response to HIV, infectious hepatitis, Ebola, and other outbreaks and epidemics. Fauci said he simply answered questions about the coronavirus rather than giving the league directions.

In response to Fauci’s comments, the NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills responded with a statement saying the league is taking necessary precautions and measures in preparation for a 2020 season.

The league has access to other experts as well, and its players will have a say in how the game resumes, Fauci said. Representatives of other sports — professional baseball, hockey and soccer — have also asked for his consultation, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s been somehow spun that I’m the person in the way of a football season,” he said. “Absolutely not.”


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