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MT5: Comprehensive testing key to successful season for NFL

Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy

Lambeau Field
Lambeau Field

On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown

Several professional sports leagues (including the NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLS) have decided to play their seasons by putting players in a bubble, by flying all the players and teams to one site and playing all games there. The NFL and MLB, though, have decided that it is not feasible or practical, due to the size of their rosters and the length of their seasons, to try to put all the players in a bubble. Rather, the NFL has decided to put comprehensive testing at the core of its plan to start and complete the season. The league's chief medical officer Allen Sills has talked about creating a virtual bubble for our players this season.

Dr. Sills has played a key role in establishing the numerous medical protocols along with Dr. Thom Mayer of the NFLPA. They were both part of a joint medical task force that issued a report that was the basis for the protocols. People have joked that the total pages for all the protocols are more than the pages in most teams' playbooks.

The league's testing protocol is the most comprehensive of all the testing programs in professional sports. Players will be required to test negative three times in a four-day period before being allowed to enter the facility. Once they are in the facility, players will be tested daily for two weeks. If the team's positive rate is less than 5% after two weeks, the testing will drop down to every other day. If a player tests positive, he will immediately be removed from the facility to focus on treatment and minimize the risk of the virus spreading to other players.

Although the testing is comprehensive, testing by itself will not keep our players healthy. In addition to testing, we have to ensure that players stay physically distant, wear face masks and use hand sanitizer on a regular basis. Another key part of the medical protocol is contact tracing. While they are in our facility, all players will wear wristbands with proximity detection devices that will track whenever they are within six feet of another person with a device. This will help with the contact tracing process.

The 2020 season will be unlike any previous season in the NFL's history. As the situation with the Miami Marlins this week shows, there will be challenges ahead as we attempt to play a season during a pandemic. I have confidence, though, in our medical experts and believe that we have put together the protocols that will allow us to complete the season. Doug Collins, our director of security/risk management, is serving as our infection control officer. He's done a great job keeping us updated on all the protocols and has ensured that our facilities are as safe as possible.

Now, on to your questions…

John from Minocqua, WI

Dear Mark, I read that Devin Funchess has decided to opt out of the 2020 season. What are the rules for players opting out?

Excellent question, John. Opt outs were part of our recent negotiation with the NFLPA. Both sides wanted to provide an opportunity for players to opt out if they were not comfortable trying to play during a pandemic. There are two possible opt outs – one for those deemed to be a high risk medically and those who aren't. If a player is considered high risk, he will receive $350,000 for the season, and the others will receive $150,000. Devin stated that he was opting out because he has close family members who have experienced the life-threatening impact of COVID-19, and he wants to keep them and himself safe. So far, 32 players across the league have opted out, including former Packers player and Northwestern Wildcat Danny Vitale.

A question from Paul

Why do you continue to alienate your fan base? 50 years of game days gone. I am done. 1. Kneeling is very offensive to me. I love our country. I served. DO IT ON YOUR TIME NOT MINE! 2. All lives matter. 3. Blue Lives Matter. The NFL has no spine. Your freedom comes from those that protect you. 4. Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization.

5. The history of the name Redskin is well documented. Should be revered. The NFL is very weak-minded. 6. ESPN. Enough said. 7. NFL halftime shows for non-fans. 8. THERE IS ONLY ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM! I was born and raised in Racine, Wis., I know you don't care anyways. So p--- off.

Thanks for sharing your views, Paul. With all due respect, though, I must say that I don't agree with most of your thoughts. We are not trying to alienate our fan base, and think it is important to support our players. I am very proud of our players and support their right to peacefully protest as they try to bring about meaningful change in our society. When players kneel, they are not disrespecting the flag or the country, but bringing attention to systemic racism and police brutality. Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist or Marxist organization, and I know that they are trying to bring an end to racial inequality. The NFL has decided to play "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (commonly referred to as the Black national anthem) as part of the broadcasts for all games in the first weekend.

A question from Rick

Why doesn't the NFL make a decision for a consistent number of fans to be present at a home game? It could get very one-sided if a place like Seattle had a full house and Green Bay had only 20,000 fans in attendance. I believe that the NFL needs to make this very inconsistent year as consistent as they can. BTW, you and the BOD have done a great job in all this mess. Nice job on the best year financially ever as well!

Thanks, Rick. Normally, the NFL is all about competitive equity, it is one of the pillars that has made the league so strong. There has always been a lot of truth in the slogan "On Any Given Sunday" for the league. For this year, though, I think we have to accept the fact that the season will be imperfect and that there will be inequities. Regarding fans, the league decided to leave it up to the clubs, in conjunction with state and local health officials, to determine whether to have fans and, if so, how many. A number of states have already announced that there will be no fans in the stands for any games this year. Although the situation is inequitable, I do not think the teams with fans in the stadiums will have a big advantage. We followed the CDC guidelines and determined that we would only have 10,000 to 12,000 people in the stands if we decide to allow fans to attend. A total of 10,000 fans spread across Lambeau Field will not create a lot of problems for visiting teams.

Shirly from Madison, WI

How are the Packers going to keep all of their employees safe this season? Is it worth even trying to play during COVID-19?

As I wrote earlier, Shirley, testing will be the key part in keeping people safe this year. I focused on our players, but we obviously have a lot of other employees that we also want to keep safe. For the testing program, we have broken the individuals to be tested into tiers. Tier 1 includes our players and others who interact with the players on a regular basis. Tier 2 employees are owner representatives, general managers and others that interact with the players but not on a regular basis. Tier 2 also includes 10 media members, Tier 2M, who have no access to players but will be able to watch practice. Tier 1 and 2 individuals will be tested daily. Tier 3 includes individuals (such as ground crews and cleaners) who work in the player areas but not at times when players are there. Tier 3 will be tested once a week. In addition, we have many employees who are not in any of the tiers. We are keeping them safe by allowing them to continue to work from home (if possible). For those who come into the office, we are asking them to stay physically distant and wear masks when in the common areas. We also have hand sanitizer spread throughout the entire building. To answer your question, I do think it is worth it to play this season because of the confidence I have in the plan that our medical experts have established.

John from Pewaukee, WI

I see where the NFL can fine or suspend players for reckless behavior. That seems pretty harsh to me. What the heck is going on with this?

I have to admit, John, that it does seem a bit harsh. With the medical protocols that we have put in place for the season, we feel very good about keeping the players safe when they are in our facility. The weak link will be when players (and coaches and staff who interact with players) go home. The players and others will have to act responsibly when they are away from the facility, or we run the risk of an outbreak. The reckless behavior language is in the section of our agreement regarding whether a positive test for COVID-19 is a football injury. After a player tests negative three times in four days, they will be allowed to enter the facility. After that, any positive test for COVID-19 is presumed to be a football injury. However, if a club can show that a player engaged in reckless behavior, they can claim that it is a non-football injury (which gives the club rights such as fining or suspending the player). The agreement lists examples of reckless behavior.

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