Tennessee Titans Taught A Lesson: NFL team fined for COVID-19 outbreak

November 28, 2020

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

Following an outbreak of COVID-19 among 24 team players and personnel, the National Football League (NFL) team Tennessee Titans has been fined $350,000 for violating COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

What does this mean?

Upon investigation by the NFL, it was reported that the outbreak was due to non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols. Incidents included; personnel not wearing masks, poor physical distancing and insufficient communication across employers and employees working among the team as to the appropriate procedure for team member workouts and socialisation away from the Titans training facility.

Interestingly, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the reasoning behind this financial penalty was “not about discipline” but rather “about making sure we’re keeping our personnel safe”. Due to the nature of the fine being a matter of miscommunication as opposed to the outright disregard for COVID-19 protocols, the Titans were fortunate that the “insufficiently clear” guidelines only amounted to the fine of $350,000. Unlike the Las Vegas Raiders, whose penalties now total $1.2 million and who lost a draft pick which is crucial for building next year’s team and for recruiting new players. 

What's the big picture effect?

This NFL development is of wider interest in both the commercial and legal sphere. It is particularly important considering the balancing act between employer responsibility, employee obedience and the high levels of commercial profitability at risk if more COVID-19 outbreaks occur during the NFL season resulting in delays. With US COVID-19 deaths estimated to have exceeded 232,000, complacency as to its transmissibility is unacceptable. As conceded by Buffalo Bills NFL coach Sean McDermott, “sometimes we get insulated in this NFL piece and we lose sight of what’s going on around us”. Unfortunately, a reality further emphasised by the Las Vegas Raiders with their head coach Jon Gruden repeatedly fined for insufficient COVID-19 safety etiquette. Where figures of authority within the team are not complying, whether intentionally or otherwise, this represents a substantial and unacceptable risk to the transmission of COVID-19.

So, why have such incidents of non-compliance arisen? One suggestion is that commercial profitability was initially prioritised over appropriate risk management. Based on 2018 figures of revenue, it was predicted in May 2020 by Mike Ozanian, a sports money writer for Forbes, that the combined sum of missed revenue through tickets, team stores, concessions among various other components would result in the loss of “$5.5 billion” for the NFL as a whole. This highlights the true scale of profitability at risk for the NFL and how significant such revenue is. 

A better handling of affairs can be seen from the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) response to COVID-19. Resorting to forming a “Disney bubble,” they hired out vast sections of the Orlando Disney park for the teams to continue the 2019-2020 season. Although not logistically possible for the NFL season structure, it does demonstrate a response which combines expense, innovation and appropriate industry responsibility in balancing safety protocols with profit margins.

Overall, whilst implementing penalties and removing draft picks is a step in the right direction, greater emphasis must be placed on constructing secure safety protocols for all employees, as opposed to reacting with the application of penalties for non-compliance.

Report written by Karolina Smolicz

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