The NFL’s ongoing investigation into the Tennessee Titans’ COVID-19 outbreak could lead to severe discipline against the club, following multiple reports of the Titans violating numerous COVID-19 protocols.
Before the 2020 season began, the NFL outlined strict guidelines at team facilities for every organization to follow. Now, in the days following the Titans’ outbreak, a league investigation could be discovering multiple transgressions by Tennessee.
NFL investigating Titans for COVID-19 outbreak
While the NFL had experienced isolated incidents of positive COVID-19 cases and scares this season, the outbreak in Tennessee was the first for the league. After postponing the team’s Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, everyone was hopeful the Titans could resume action in Week 5.
The team took a huge step towards returning earlier this week, with no new cases reported on Monday or Tuesday. Then, on the verge of returning to practice Wednesday, two more players tested positive and another player was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Thursday. With the club’s Week 5 game against the Buffalo Bills in serious jeopardy, far greater consequences could be looming for the Titans.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson, two people involved in the NFL’s investigation believe severe discipline could be coming for Tennessee. The joint probe by the league and players’ union is ongoing, but there is already belief the Titans violated COVID-19 protocols.
When the Titans were forced to suspend all in-person activities this past week, the NFL made it known that this also barred players from working out together outside of the team’s facility. Yet, more than a dozen players held a workout at a nearby high school.
While this is part of the league’s investigation, there are two main focuses for the NFL. First, the league reportedly is looking into evidence that would indicate players and team personnel didn’t adhere to wearing face coverings and PPE inside club headquarters. Furthermore, the NFL is trying to determining if the Titans didn’t regularly wear the contact tracing tracers, which helped the league determine which players were in close contact of someone with COVID-19.
These aren’t the only questions the Titans are facing during the inquiry. Reports also suggested players didn’t disclose when they may have had COVID-19 symptoms and that linebackers coach Shane Bowen, who tested positive, failed to report contact with someone who had the coronavirus.
The NFL held a conference call on Monday and sent a memo to all 32 teams detailing the new restrictions and enhancements to the COVID-19 protocols. In addition, clubs were warned that there would be significant discipline for any violations that result in the virus spreading or changes to the league’s schedule.
“Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in the memo.
What kind of punishment could NFL levy against the Titans?
We’ve seen the NFL drop the hammer on teams before for violating league rules, but not regarding player safety during a pandemic. The Patriots were fined $1.1 million this year and lost a 2021 third-round pick for illegally taping the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline during the 2019 season.
New England is quite familiar with the NFL’s punishments. The league docked the organization $1 million and two draft picks for the “DeflateGate” scandal. The Patriots also lost a 2008 first-round selection as part of the “SpyGate” scandal.
If the NFL’s investigation determines the Titans violated COVID-19 safety protocols and that recklessness led to the outbreak, it may use them as an example. Handing down a severe punishment, potentially losing a first-round pick and more than $1 million in fines, would send a clear message to every other club.