Dr. Fauci double talk on COVID is confusing as teams prepare for training camp

Fauci said, "My statements about the NFL season have been misinterpreted and taken out of context"

Jeff Diamond
June 25, 2020 - 2:29 pm
Anthony Fauci

Kevin Dietsch-pool / Getty Images


Dr. Fauci double talk on COVID and NFL season confusing as teams prepare for training camp

By Jeff Diamond, former Vikings GM who co-hosted Monday Night Purple and Purple Sunday Postgame last season on News Talk 830 WCCO along with WCCO’s NFL Draft coverage.

As the other “Big Four” professional sports leagues in America prepare to resume or open their seasons with no fans in the stands and strict protocols in place, the NFL has the advantage of watching and learning from MLB, NBA and NHL teams who are all scheduled to resume training and then games in July and early August.

NFL training camps—including the Vikings’ camp at their Eagan facility—are scheduled to open on July 28. As a former NFL GM and team president, I can empathize with team execs’ mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation after a long offseason of differing interpretations on the future path of the coronavirus while in the midst of virtual training and classroom sessions for players and coaches with team facilities waiting to reopen.

I also can feel the frustration of NFL league office and team officials along with coaches, players and staff as they heard the mixed messages coming over the past week from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

First Fauci told CNN, “Unless players are essentially in a bubble (like the NBA in Orlando)—insulated from the community and they are tested every day—it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall. If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and could be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

Then Fauci sounded like a double talking politician when he “clarified” his comments on football’s prospects. “My statements about the NFL season have been misinterpreted and taken out of context,” he said. “I was asked by officials from the NFL about risks associated with various scenarios that the NFL might face in consideration of the upcoming season. I provided advice from a public health standpoint.  The ultimate decision is not mine but that of the officials of the NFL and the players themselves. I merely provide advice based on data and science. I certainly do not make the call on whether a league can or cannot return.”

The NFL’s reaction had to be, “How about you talk more about what is really happening at the time and less on your guesses regarding the sports world—however educated—of how things will look in late July and on into the September regular season?”

That was essentially the reaction of NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills who said the league would “make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled.”

Meanwhile the NFL is mandating that teams develop an Infectious Disease Emergency Response plan that sets forth the team’s protocols and assigns tiers to limit access to restricted areas such as locker rooms, training rooms, practice and stadium fields. Tier 1 will consist of players, coaches, trainers, physicians and necessary personnel who must have direct access to the players.

In addition, social distancing and cleaning protocols will be in place and temperatures taken upon access to team facilities. Masks are required in facilities unless they interfere with athletic performance. These are similar to protocols being put in place for other sports return to play.

The key factor to watch as NFL teams open camps and begin practicing in a contact sport will be how teams and the league react when one or more players develops COVID symptoms and how long such players are quarantined. And will the league reduce the number of preseason games leading up to the September 10 regular season opening game (Houston at Kansas City)? All we know so far is the Hall of Fame Game between the Cowboys and Steelers that would launch the preseason schedule on August 6
has been canceled.

Clearly it’s going to be the strangest NFL training camp period in league history.

Vikings co-defensive coordinators quick hits on offseason and Vikings defense:

Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer spoke recently via video conference and shared these thoughts:

Patterson on how the innovative co-coordinator plan is working: “I’ve known Adam since he was a little boy and worked with him the last six years with the front. Obviously I’ve known Mike (Zimmer) a long time, too. Both of us know Mike very well and what he wants. I think that’s helped us come together and try to make things as smooth as possible for him, to be as organized as we can. It’s been a real smooth transition because we’re familiar with one another.”

Adam Zimmer on working with Patterson: “We’ve done a good job communicating since day one, laid out everyone’s responsibilities throughout the coaching staff so everyone is on the same page. All we’re trying to do is get one common goal, to be the best defense we can be and the best defense in the NFL.”  

Patterson on who will call the defensive signals this season: “That’s up to the boss (Mike Zimmer). We just do our job and we’re not caught up in that.”

Patterson on the players’ progress during the virtual offseason with online classroom sessions: “Our coaches did an outstanding job of becoming teachers. I think our players understand the scheme better today than five or six weeks ago when we first started this, and I think it’s because of what we decided to do, using this as an advantage for our guys to learn.”

Adam Zimmer: “We’ve taught it and slowed it down, and it’s been really good—not only for the young players but even for the veterans. They’ve worked really hard and been able to understand the grand scheme of the defense. We’re very happy with the results of how the offseason went, and hopefully we can continue that as we get back together, whenever that may be.”

Adam Zimmer on inexperience at cornerback: “You’re always going to have young players and we have a number of young defensive backs. I do think they’ve done a great job in these offseason meetings. They understand the defense really well and the biggest thing we’re going to have to do when they get to practice is fine tune their technique and fundamentals.”

Patterson, who will continue to coach the defensive line, on how his d-line group shapes up: “I feel really good about the room. Rick Spielman and the front office have done a great job getting me talent so we’ve got great competition from top to bottom. I think we’re in good shape and I really like the makeup of the d-line group.”  

Patterson on Ifeadi Odenigbo, who is expected to replace Everson Griffen as the starter at defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter (Odenigbo had seven sacks last season despite limited play time): “Obviously I’m excited about Ifeadi to continue to improve as a player. He made great strides last year. He’s a tremendous, hard worker and he’s busting his tail to continue to improve.”

Patterson and Adam Zimmer on the defensive turnover this season: Patterson—“The NFL is about developing talent and I feel great about our defensive coaches and their ability to develop players. That’s how you remain good for a long time.” Zimmer--“You’re going to have to rely on some new players and you have to coach them up. We have a great core of veterans—Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter, Shamar Stephen-- who know how to do things and the expectations around here. They’ll hold these young guys accountable and will set the expectations for the young guys on how our Vikings defense will look and how to execute the scheme.”

Adam Zimmer on Kendricks speaking out on social justice and his leadership skills: “I’m really proud of him for standing up for what he believes in. He’s a tremendous person, he’s a great worker and we’re thankful to have him and guys look to him because of the way he plays, great effort all the time. He’s a leader by example but he’s not afraid to call people out when they need to be. His leadership has developed over time, the more he’s been here.”

Around the NFL Observations:

1.Former Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, now 35 years old, says he wants to play four more years which would be an amazing feat and could make him the oldest back to ever play if 37 year old Frank Gore retires after this season with the Jets. “Why not four more years?,” Peterson said this week.  “I’m still chasing championships, I still can play the game at a high level. Having that love and passion for the game, I’m going to continue the ball rolling.”

Peterson also will be seeking to be the oldest running back to gain 1,000 yards rushing, an honor held by John Riggins (1,239 yards in 1984 at age 35). Peterson, the Vikings all-time rushing leader with 11,747 yards, currently ranks fifth all-time in NFL rushing with 14,216 yards and is 4,139 yards behind career leader Emmitt Smith.

2. Only three first round picks have signed league-wide so teams including the Vikings (with their two first rounders in wide receiver Justin Jefferson and cornerback Jeff Gladney) have work to do with the presumed start of training camp one month away.

Jeff Diamond was the NFL Executive of the Year in 1998 after the Vikings' 15-1 season. He also is former president of the Tennessee Titans. He does sports/business consulting, media and speaking work including corporate and college speaking on Negotiation, Management, Leadership and Sports Business--contact him at diamondj4@comcast receiver off

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