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Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford’s stint on COVID-19 list shows just how fragile football is

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press

Published 6: 37 AM EDT Aug 2, 2020

It was two lines tucked near the bottom of the daily transaction report and it sent shudders through the NFL:

Stafford, Matthew  QB  Georgia

Reserve/COVID-19

The Detroit Lions placed quarterback Matthew Stafford on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, reminding everyone once again that the novel coronavirus is not to be messed with.

It’s unknown, for now, whether Stafford tested positive for the virus or simply was around someone who had. Both instances require a stay on the list.

[ COVID-19 challenging how every sports league operates. And challenging us as fans, too ]

But Stafford is the highest-profile NFL player and first starting quarterback linked to COVID-19 this summer, and his benching — for however long — is a sign of just how precarious this season is.

To be clear, Stafford’s health and the health of his young family should be everyone’s foremost concern. Stafford and his wife, Kelly, have four daughters under the age of 4, including a newborn, and Kelly is 15 months removed from brain surgery.

COVID-19 has killed more than 156,000 people nationwide so far and infected 4.68 million, and while it seems to disproportionately impact the elderly, that’s not always the case.

The Boston Red Sox announced Saturday that pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez would miss the season after he developed a heart issue related to the virus.

Stafford may very well return this season, and he could be back as soon as this week. A player who’s been in close contact with an infected person can return after two negative tests within a 24-hour span so long as they’re asymptomatic.

But that doesn’t change the scare he sent across the NFL Saturday, amplifying the concerns of many who’ve been whispering about their fears for months.

The NFL is determined to play football this fall, and the league is comprised of many grown men willing to put their bodies at risk for fame and fortune that can set their families up for a lifetime, or simply their love of the game. 

[ Matt Patricia: To prevent coronavirus outbreak on team, ‘more is more’ ]

But many of those men, both players and coaches, fall into the high-risk category for coronavirus based on their age or weight or health history, and playing the sport is inherently risky in nature.

Stafford, by all accounts, took many of the precautions doctors suggest to keep the virus at bay. He worked out with teammates at various points this spring and summer, but said in May that players clicked their cleats in lieu of handshakes and that he was doing his best to stop licking his fingers before touching the ball.

Like the rest of his Lions teammates, Stafford was tested for COVID-19 three times this week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. He reported for his first test with a covering on his face, and when he left the testing trailer, he pumped a squirt of sanitizer in his hand.

Even if Stafford is healthy, Saturday’s transaction shows how fragile football’s ground is. If Major League Baseball is a teetering Jenga tower, as Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel wrote, the NFL is Red Panda on her unicycle tossing fine China in the air.

The NFL has strict rules in place about its facilities, who can come in contact with players, and even what those players can do in their down time. But none of that guarantees anyone’s health.

If a player like Stafford tests positive before a game, he’s likely to miss a week or more, and he could take several of his teammates with him through contact tracing. If that happens after he’s played in a game, there’s no telling how far the virus can spread.

The Lions fortified their backup quarterback position this spring by signing veteran Chase Daniel to a three-year deal. Daniel, presumably, will lead walk-throughs when the Lions begin workouts Monday, when it appears they’ll be without Stafford, Kenny Golladay, T.J. Hockenson and five other players on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Hockenson posted an Instagram video of himself lifting weights on Saturday, and two of the Lions’ other coronavirus positive cases, punter Arryn Siposs and cornerback Justin Coleman, are known to be asymptomatic.

That doesn’t change the serious nature of the virus, and it doesn’t change how tricky a time this is.

Hopefully, football is able to play a season this fall, but more importantly, hopefully it doesn’t take anyone down trying.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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