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how to handle a pandemic: lessons from the nfl

Redux Extra April 3, 2021
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The National Football League has taken its fair share of criticism over the last decade for its handling of several off the field matters, but its ability to safely push forward and complete the 2020 season should be a lesson for us all.

First, let’s note that the NFL is a multi-billion dollar business and it has everything to lose when it comes to a cancelled season. With literally billions on the line, what is it that the NFL did to march through an entire season relatively unscathed financially? It’s simpler than you think actually: they believed in a phenomenon called science. Yep, science.

I realize that the “science” rhetoric appears to be cloaked in condescension, but the truth is, if you want to keep your close-contact billion dollar business afloat, you’re going to have to follow the science and respect the protocols that the science demands. The NFL took every reasonable precaution it could to keep its athletes masked, distant and otherwise safe. The NFL had an extensive set of protocols that were specific to players and staff, but also extended to the media and all those associated with game day activities. The protocols further specified
extensive travel and testing protocols. Finally, for those that tested positive, the NFL had strict isolation protocols which extended to any and all close contacts. Just to be clear, the NFL did lose some of its anticipated revenue due to the pandemic and many NFL players tested positive throughout the season. However, the NFL managed to sustain most of its revenue and profit margin due to the strict protocols that were in place.

So, what’s the lesson here? Why do we care about the NFL’s success in timely marching through an entire season? The lesson is that when numerous smart people get into a room to discuss how to sustain a multi-billion dollar business, they follow the science. They don’t get political. They don’t parrot the words of the uninformed. They don’t mock the cautious among them. Nope, none of that happened this year in the NFL. They heeded the science.

I think it’s important to note that the current pandemic will not be the last pandemic we witness. And when that next virus swiftly moves through this world, we must heed its warnings and swiftly quell it. Our economy and general well-being require decisive action so that an entire world isn’t indoors and out of work for an extended period of time. And when that time comes, it might be a good idea to take a page out of the NFL’s pandemic playbook. It worked.

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