Ready — or not — for some football? NFL Sundays return, but COVID-19 looms over typical hype

Sports

(NewsNation Now) — Week 1 of the NFL season began Thursday night with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys. The spotlight would ordinarily have been on the big-name quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Dak Prescott, but they shared it with a Dallas offensive lineman, Zack Martin, who tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot play.

“It’s just a [positive] test today,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Martin’s health. “It’s certainly not his first test, but [sitting out is] the protocol.”

It’s a protocol that the league, which kicks off in earnest with its first full slate of Sunday games, is hopeful will succeed. This season it includes weekly testing for vaccinated players and staff and daily testing for the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated.

Players who are fully vaccinated will not be required to wear masks at outdoor practices, though face coverings are still mandatory indoors. Fully vaccinated individuals will not be designated as high-risk close contacts, which means the only players at risk of missing games without a positive test are the unvaccinated.

Vaccinations played into speculation as well as to how roster decisions were made pre-season. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick clarified that he released Super Bowl quarterback Cam Newton for performance reasons, not because he was unvaccinated.

“No player has been released or kept because of their vaccination status,” Belichick said. “That’s not part of the equation.”

But there still may be consequences. The NFL has told teams that if an outbreak among its players is so severe the game cannot be played, they will have to forfeit and players from both teams will miss their paychecks.

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