The NFL Is a COVID Superspreader Right Now

There are currently more than 70 active players on the NFL’s COVID-19 list.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of the Los Angeles Rams plays against the Arizona Cardinals on December 13, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of the Los Angeles Rams plays against the Arizona Cardinals on December 13, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

In the month before playoffs, dozens of National Football League players are currently sidelined due to COVID. 

There are more than 70 active players on the NFL’s COVID-19 list, out of approximately 1,700 players in the entire league. Sixty-five players have tested positive in the last two days, including a single-day record on Monday of 37 new cases.


The Los Angeles Rams, fresh off a win Monday night, was forced to close its practice facility Tuesday after nine players, including former Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., tested positive. The Cleveland Browns, who are set to play the Las Vegas Raiders Saturday, had eight players test positive

And on Monday, the Washington Football Team said that one of its employees had tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron variant, which is believed to be the first case of Omicron in the NFL.   

The Rams and Browns are just the latest of seven teams who, since Monday, have entered what the NFL refers to as its “enhanced COVID-19 protocols,” which include daily testing regardless of vaccination status as well as mandatory masking at team facilities. And although all of the Rams currently on the COVID list have been vaccinated, Rams head coach Sean McVay said Tuesday he expects it to get even worse.


“There’s going to be more people that are affected by this,” McVay told reporters.

The NFL isn’t the only major sports league dealing with outbreaks. Dozens of National Basketball Association players are currently in the league’s “health and safety protocols,” the NBA’s iteration of the COVID-19 list. 

On Monday, the league postponed the Chicago Bulls’ next two games after 10 players were added to the list, more than half of the team’s active roster. In the NBA, players must be quarantined for 10 days or test negative on PCR tests twice before they can return to the team.

Two of the league’s biggest stars, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden, tested positive on Tuesday and now have to abide by the league’s safety protocols. Harden was one of seven Nets players to enter the protocols before their game against the Toronto Raptors in Brooklyn on Tuesday.


The National Hockey League is also working through its own COVID issues. On Monday, the Calgary Flames were forced to postpone their next three games after six players and a team staffer tested positive. And on Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes-Minnesota Wild game in St. Paul was postponed after six Hurricanes players tested positive between Monday and Tuesday. 

While there have been some high-profile cases of unvaccinated players in the NFL and NBA, including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving—who has not played at all this season due to his continual refusal to get vaccinated—the overwhelming majority of the leagues are fully vaccinated. 

Nearly 95 percent of the NFL was fully vaccinated as of November, 97 percent of NBA players were fully vaccinated by the beginning of December, and in October, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had just four unvaccinated players

Some of the leagues are already planning more stringent measures to cut down on transmission—as much as possible, at least, considering football and hockey are contact sports and there’s plenty of physical contact in basketball as well. The NFL is requiring players and coaches to receive a booster shot by December 27 unless they’re not eligible under CDC guidelines or they’ve had a recent infection or injection of monoclonal antibodies. 

And starting Friday, NBA players who haven’t received a booster dose—more than 60 percent of players have, according to the NBA—will be subject to game-day testing

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 800,000 Americans have died from COVID-related illness. Though fears about the Omicron variant have spread throughout the world, the Delta variant is still wreaking havoc on the U.S., with about 850,000 new cases a week, approximately 1,300 confirmed deaths per day, and more than 67,000 people currently hospitalized

“It’s the new normal, but it’s scary,” Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said Tuesday. “I don’t know that there’s an end in sight. This is the world we may live in indefinitely. We’ve all been affected by this. I’ve lost family members. The day-to-day life, even if you haven’t lost people, has changed and may not go back to what it was indefinitely.”