On the N.F.L.’s march to complete a 269-game schedule amid a pandemic, more than 700 players, coaches and other team personnel tested positive for the coronavirus.
Only one of the league’s 32 teams remained untouched by the virus: the Seattle Seahawks. And how they made it through the long season virus-free, in Washington State, is a testament to innovative thinking and procedures.
“They invented a playbook for a safe practice environment at a time when the future was deeply uncertain and people were questioning the wisdom of pro sports starting up,” said Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist who has helped organizations respond to the coronavirus and informally advised the Seahawks.
The Seahawks faced perhaps the most arduous circumstances in the N.F.L. Their 2020 schedule included five cross-country flights, which meant they would log more miles than any other N.F.L. team. And when they were home, the Seahawks trained not far from Kirkland, Wash., the nation’s first coronavirus “hot spot.”
That made them witnesses to the pandemic well before the season kicked off. Sam Ramsden, the team’s director of player health and performance, cared for his wife, Lisa, in March, when, doctors believe, she had Covid-19.
Starting in late spring, Ramsden, Coach Pete Carroll and other team leaders used a combination of pragmatism, flexibility and gamesmanship to duck, bob and weave through the pandemic.
The team’s football operations department created a schedule for who would be tested and when. (Almost 36,000 tests were ultimately given.) Each morning, trainers and others handed out sensors that tracked how close players, coaches and staff members were to one another and for how long. The travel coordinator made sure the team’s drivers were tested and buses were disinfected.
“It was like a band of brothers,” said Ramsden, who often wore a T-shirt that read, “Stay Negative or Stay Home.”
Out-of-town visitors had to be tested immediately upon arriving in Seattle, remain in a hotel for 24 hours and get a second test. Only those who tested negative twice could see a player, coach or staff member.
Beyond common-sense initiatives, Ramsden and Carroll pieced together uniquely Seahawkian ways to keep coronavirus safety a priority. Carroll is known for his mantra messaging — his favorite is “Everything is a competition” — so he told players that each position group would contend for the title of fewest close contacts, hammering home a message that the team was only as secure as its weakest link. (The wide receivers won.)
“I realized that we were going to have to create our own bubble,” Carroll said. “Everything that one person did, everybody did, if we were together and connected.”
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