Once again, the National Football League has fumbled the ball in the face of an opportunity to set an example for the country. Super Bowl LV was held in Tampa Bay, Florida last week in a stadium packed with thousands of fans, as well as thousands of cardboard cutouts, looking full to the brim. While some may argue the supposed virtues of trying to get life “back to normal,” filling a stadium with thousands of people side-by-side is a wildly irresponsible undertaking in a country still racked by the novel coronavirus.
For much of the NFL season, teams were either not allowed or chose not to host fans in their stadiums for home games, given the fact that large gatherings of people in close quarters is a fairly obvious environment for rapid disease transmission. And yet, in the face of COVID-19 infection numbers that are some of the highest of the whole pandemic, the NFL chose to put over 20,000 fans, including 7,500 healthcare workers, the teams and their staffs, and those that put on the halftime show, into one stadium. I am as much of a fan of the NFL as the next person, but this event was a complete abdication of a great opportunity to show millions around the country the example of a sacrifice for the safety of thousands of lives. Instead, they have shown an example of disregard for those lives, as well as the massive efforts that healthcare workers have been putting in for almost a year.
While the healthcare workers were vaccinated, all of the other spectators were not required to have tested negative or been vaccinated before attending. In a situation where people are eating, drinking and cheering, the free masks that the NFL handed out are unlikely to be enough to stop any significant spread. By projecting the image of a packed stadium, as well as having the Super Bowl MVP proclaim that he is “going to Disney World” on national television, the NFL told Americans that it was okay to start doing these social events again.
This pandemic has already claimed 475,000 lives in the U.S. and the country is currently coming out of the largest spike of cases and deaths since the pandemic began, still averaging nearly 100,000 new cases per day. It is not as though the state of Florida needs an excuse to start partying either; they have some of the highest total and average numbers in the country while executive leadership has chosen to implement some of the laxest COVID-19 restrictions of any state in the union. The Biden administration has shown that they take this pandemic much more seriously than the previous admin, but there is still so much further to go, and the Super Bowl did not help that.