Still, the Titans’ positive tests and other incidents show how difficult it is to maintain the vigilance that will be necessary to keep football on track. Raiders Coach Jon Gruden was one of those fined after a game in Week 2 for not properly wearing his mask on the field. Now the league is investigating his team after an unauthorized employee reportedly entered the locker room, potentially exposing the team, after that same game.
The league is also investigating an incident from Monday in which several Raiders players, including quarterback Derek Carr and tight end Jason Witten, were seen mingling with guests and not wearing masks at a teammate’s indoor charity event in Henderson, Nev., a violation of local prohibitions. Photos and videos of the event posted to social media showed them apparently in violation of league rules against high-risk Covid-19 conduct.
The Raiders owner Mark Davis, who may face fines for the actions of his players, took responsibility. “I take this virus very seriously,” he said. “The message throughout this organization is to wear the masks.”
With more than 2,000 players and hundreds of coaches, trainers and team personnel in the league, the cost of housing them all in secure environments or one central hub would have been great at a time when team owners were bracing for substantial losses from not having fans at games. The players, too, were reluctant to be separated from their families for months.
So the league funneled money into testing, contact tracing and limiting the players’ access to the news media, fans and team staffs. Locker rooms, team planes and other communal spaces were overhauled to create more physical distancing. But outside teams’ facilities, the players, coaches and staff members have been left to police themselves, a strategy that has limits, as the Titans’ outbreak and the incidents with the Raiders show.
By keeping the schedule on track and allowing teams to travel and play in their home stadiums, the N.F.L. has tried to keep things as normal as possible for its franchises in these abnormal times. That choice relied on consistently containing an unpredictable virus, though, and now the league is scrambling to find a Plan B or Plan C with time running out and the game on the line.