NFL's COVID-19 numbers encouraging, soft tissue injuries up

By BARRY WILNER 27 October 2021, 12:00AM

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL is encouraged by the progress made in preventing any major spreads of COVID-19 among the 32 teams, while concerned about an increase in soft tissue injuries.

Dr. Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer, noted Tuesday at the first in-person owners meetings since December 2019 that a low positive COVID-19 rate between .04% and .06% is due greatly to vaccinations and protocols working. Nearly 100,000 COVID-19 tests have been taken, 1,200 a day on average across the league.

So far, 94.1% of players are vaccinated, as well as 100% of team and league staff.

“We're continuing to work with the players association on the goal of 100% vaccination,” Sills said. “The CDC has been in contact with us about how that is achieved, a vaccination success story, and is pointing to the NFL as a model for other parts of society.”

Sills mentioned a recent mini-outbreak with the Arizona Cardinals that included coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“Of the first seven cases in Arizona, five were different strains of the virus,” he said, which indicated those people were exposed outside the team facility. “Definitely the impact of vaccinations, we're not seeing the clustering or uncontrolled spread of the virus. Nor are we seeing the uncontained, unexplainable, uncontrolled spread we saw last year."

The league is undertaking a voluntary study of antibody levels to measure and compare who was vaccinated when and which medication, and whether the person had COVID-19. Sills called it a “unique study because of size and the frequent testing.” Players can participate but are not the focus, club employees are.

In the meantime, Bills co-owner Terry Pegula was required to leave the meeting for precautionary reasons after being deemed to have had close contact to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 at his daughter's wedding over the weekend, as first reported by The Buffalo News earlier in the day.

Members of the Pegula family, including co-owner and team president Kim Pegula, are not experiencing any symptoms.

As for the soft tissue injuries (hamstring, groin, calf, et al), the numbers are up to a five-year high even though the overall amount of preseason injuries went down. Of course, there were only three preseason games for 30 of the teams during the summer.

Sills cited the amount of work required of players in a short timeframe, and expressed a need for significant load management to combat the problem.

“There's a lot to unpack there and we will have more to say about this, I think, as we approach the combine (in late winter),” he said. “This year (such injuries) were particularly noteworthy.”

The 2022 combine will be in Indianapolis, but the 2023 event will be put up for bidding, with Dallas, Los Angeles and Indianapolis interested.

Members of the NFL’s Social Justice Working Group and the owners of all 32 teams were given a copy of a letter by two former employees of the Washington Football Team asking them to make public a report on the league’s 10-month investigation into the franchise.

The employees allege the team engaged in harassment and abuse for decades.

NFL spokesman Jeff Miller would not comment on the letter, saying Commissioner Roger Goodell later would speak on it — if he wanted to address the topic.

“I love for this to be a learning point, not just for the NFL, but for leagues and teams all across that this shouldn’t be hidden,” said Ana Nunez, who worked in the team’s business department until 2019. “There shouldn’t be, no workplace is perfect which is understandable, but there has to be a level of accountability when it comes to toxic culture and sexual harassment.”

Melanie Coburn, a Washington cheerleader for four years, then marketing coordinator and director until 2011, said she wants to see the report from outside counsel Beth Wilkinson, who conducted the NFL investigation, and not a watered-down version from the league.

“Most attorneys, when they’re running a 10-month investigation, there’s some sort of draft ongoing there,” she said. “So there’s lots of documents, there’s lots of information and there’s lots of Zoom recorded interviews that have been taken. So I have no doubt that there’s a report somewhere.”

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AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan and John Wawrow contributed.

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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

By BARRY WILNER 27 October 2021, 12:00AM
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