It’s a bit of an understatement to say that COVID-19 changed the sports world. With the NFL eliminating the preseason games due to the novel coronavirus, officials hope for an uninterrupted regular season. However, whether fans return to crowded stadiums or whether Saturday play will become a reality remain unanswered questions. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin recently shared his thoughts regarding COVID-19. He minced few words when describing how off-field behavior can impact on-field performance. He’s taking a zero-tolerance approach to irresponsible tomfoolery because, in his words, “It’s one fail, all fail.”
The NFL Enacts Rules to Protect Player Safety
Managing a football team shares one thing in common with teachers gearing up to return to fall classrooms — how do you control the behavior of diverse individuals gathered in groups? What’s to keep a linebacker from hitting a crowded club, contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus and bringing it onto the field? You can’t practice social distancing when you play a contact sport.
This season, players who contract the coronavirus through high-risk activities could face team discipline and the loss of their paycheck. Players may not visit indoor nightclubs, bars, sporting events, or house parties attended by more than 15 people. If they follow a religious faith, they may attend services only if the venue remains at less than 25% capacity.
To date, the Steelers have quarantined two players for testing positive for COVID or having close contact with someone who has. Tomlin’s signature catchphrase shows the interrelated nature of the infectious disease and team sports.
As the conduct of one individual can increase liability and adversely impact play for many others, Tomlin doesn’t want the team’s protective measures to be for naught. While padding team insurance policies can decrease lawsuit risk, it doesn’t return a critically ill player to the field by game day.
Tomlin preaches personal responsibility and plans to continue enforcing this principle as live play returns.
How Mike Tomlin Prepares His Team for Future Victory
That’s not to say that Tomlin focuses all his energy on preventing the spread of infectious disease. Because regular practices don’t resume until August 17, he’s focused on catching up with players like Ben Roethlisberger and their throwing game.
When training camp begins, the Steelers will take to the field with 80 players instead of the traditional 90. Tomlin will need to select which 10 players to release before taking to Heinz Field. The NFL previously issued guidance forbidding players to travel to training camp, placing St. Vincent College, the historic facility, off-limits.
Keeping the locker room clean prevents a problem. While social distancing helps slow the novel coronavirus’ spread, players sweat, spit and breathe all over each other in football, and their equipment can harbor germs. Cleaning presents safety issues for employees, and establishing an access tier system can’t keep everyone safe from potential harm.
In terms of promoting fan safety, the Steelers are selling only 50% of their single-game tickets to limit capacity. However, it remains unclear if authorities will permit fans to return to stadiums at all. Allegheny County currently resides in the yellow zone, and gatherings of more than 25 people remain prohibited.
Mike Tomlin and the NFL Take COVID Seriously
While the 2020-21 NFL season will not resemble any other in recent memory, it is a testimony to innovating in the face of daunting odds. History will see how Mike Tomlin’s practical interventions and coaching style lead the Steelers to victory.
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