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Two Falk epidemiologists and three sports industry executives discussed the pandemic expectations for the sports and entertainment industry in a webinar on Tuesday. Moderated by NBC’s Mike Tirico, Dr. Brittany Kmush and Dr. David Larsen, along with Sandy Montag, Nick Carparelli and Kevin Rochlitz, talked about prioritizing the economy and mental health in the industry. With limited or no in-person attendance, vendors and partners are losing money, which trickles down to American families.
“The financial aspect is real. How do we live with it for the next year or so?” Carparelli, Executive Director of the Bowl Season, said.
Looking ahead, the group is optimistic for next year’s football season. Larsen, an epidemiologist, said he’s a noted advocate of wearing masks but expects social distancing can likely be relaxed by fall 2021. He said he’s been wearing a mask since February, but looks forward to the day he won’t have to.
The six agreed little has been easy this year for anyone. They acknowledged they don’t want the sports industry to add to increasing case numbers or anxiety regarding the pandemic — they just hope to make things easier. This means putting public health above football, even if it means economic struggles.
“Obviously the first responders will get it first, and the NFL and leagues will not go after taking it from these folks,” said Rochlitz, Vice President of the Baltimore Ravens.
Eight months after COVID-19 entered American lives, behind-the-scenes NFL staff are still finding ways to continue playing games to maintain a steady economy within the industry.
“A lot of people are sharing notes within the league to make sure people stay safe and healthy,” Rochlitz said.
The panel agreed that having thousands of fans in the stands is undoubtedly critical, not just financially, but also for players to feel the same atmosphere as before on gameday. There have been concerns about ratings, but the NFL knows people will watch football on TV no matter what, Rochlitz said. It’s important to recognize those who make this possible, he added, even though we don’t frequently see them.
“This was never going to be a quick fix,” Rochlitz said. “We are going to remember how people treated us throughout this. And I want them to remember that the Ravens treated them first-class throughout the pandemic.”
Montag noted the stark contrast between the White House and NFL’s handling of COVID-19. The Ravens, for instance, quickly added mask requirements for anyone within the building, installed a tracker system to detect if an individual gets within a certain distance of someone else. They also frequently test players and coaches and reduced the number of in-person staff members at the facility. On Nov. 16, the Ravens announced they won’t be hosting fans at M&T Bank Stadium this weekend because of rising cases in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas. Just over 50 miles away in D.C., President Donald Trump discouraged the wearing of masks for months and denied the severity of the virus from the beginning.
“I don’t know how politics and science ever mix,” Montag said.
Experts like Larsen predict case numbers across the nation to spike to an all-time high this holiday season.
“Our country is in a very precarious situation,” Larsen warned. “I encourage everybody to not gather with people outside of the immediate family — take one for the team.”
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