By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots requested additional locker room space at Arrowhead Stadium in order to maintain social distancing and abide by COVID-19 protocols but were denied that request, according to a new report.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noted Thursday that “per a league source, the Patriots asked for more space, and their request was declined.”
It’s a notable report, for several reasons.
As it relates to the Patriots, the team traveled in two separate airplanes to the game, which was played just three days after quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19. One plane carried all of Newton’s close contacts (reportedly a group of about 20 players and coaches), while the other plane carried everyone else in the Patriots’ traveling party.
Clearly, the Patriots were doing their best to abide by social distancing measures to help prevent an outbreak. Of course, cramming all players inside of one of the smallest visiting locker rooms upon their arrival likely made all of that a wasted effort.
Here’s a look inside that visiting locker room, to get an idea of the tight quarters:
The NFL was also in the middle of investigating the Patriots for potential violations of the COVID-19 protocols when the league denied the request, an antithetical stance if there ever was one.
Outside of the Patriots, the NFL is reportedly readying a severe punishment for the Tennessee Titans for reported player workouts during the shutdown of the team’s facility, a clear violation of NFL protocols. Anything from the stripping of high draft picks to the forfeiture of games to coach/GM suspensions are apparently on the table for the Titans.
That may be a justifiable response for the NFL, sure. But the league not providing teams the opportunity to keep players at a distance sure makes all of the enhanced guidelines and stricter policies released this week ring a bit hollow. The denial of a request for additional locker room space would be noteworthy for any team during this coronavirus-impacted season; its occurrence for a team that was actively trying to limit potential spread of the virus and for a team that would produce two more positive tests days after said game shines a bright light of hypocrisy on the NFL.
Practice squad defensive tackle Bill Murray was placed on the COVD-19/reserve list on Tuesday, though he did not make the trip to Kansas City. But on Wednesday, it was learned that Stephon Gilmore tested positive.
Gilmore had traveled in the plane carrying close contacts of Newton, an effort of separation that was seemingly rendered moot when he was cramped inside a very small visiting locker room in a game that the NFL refused to postpone for longer than a day.
As of Thursday, it appears the spread of the virus has not grown. Not yet, at least. With an incubation period that varies, the Patriots know that everyone who’s been in contact with just about any teammate over the past week has to worry about producing a positive test in the coming days.
In the meanwhile, they all have to prepare for another game that the NFL adamantly does not want to postpone, after an NFL-forced short week which will likely include zero on-field practices and zero in-person meetings.
So, on the one hand, you have an NFL that purports to care very deeply about limiting the spread of COVID-19, to the point that the league is now on the verge of levying severe punishments to anyone who violates league rules. On the other hand, you have an NFL that doesn’t appear to be doing very much to help teams, players and coaches comply with the rules set forth by the league.
There’s not necessarily a right way to navigate a football season during a pandemic. There’s certainly a wrong way. The NFL is writing the book.