By Felix Harari ‘24, Staff Writer
The National Football League (NFL) continues to use creative ways to ensure that it will play a full season. They have been using a device, created by Kinexon, called the Proximity Recording Device. It is a lightweight device that can be worn as a watch or be built inside equipment. The device tracks players and determines who came in close contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19. So, if someone in the league were to test positive, anyone who came into contact with them would know to take the necessary precautions. The league requires players to wear the device when their team travels, attends a team facility, or are at practice.
The device also helps enforce social distancing by dividing players and personnel into tiers – Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 – similar to the pods at Heschel. Tier 1 consists of the people who come into contact with players, coaches, medical trainers, and equipment and strength staff. Tier 2 is made up of general managers, football operations, and administration staff; they could be in the general vicinity of Tier 1 members, but never make any direct contact. Tier 3 consists of people who don’t come into any contact with Tier 1 – essential stadium and facility staff, maintenance, and in-house media. If a Tier 3 staff member gets too close to a Tier 1 or Tier 2 individual, a red warning signal appears on the device to alert them to move away. After five seconds, the device emits an alarm.
For privacy reasons, the location of the players isn’t known and a device ID is used instead of the player’s name. IQVIA, a third party company, collects data of the people who have come into contact. If a player tests positive for COVID-19, IQVIA notifies the team’s infection control officer. People who have come into close contact with whoever tested positive must remain isolated until they receive a negative test result.
Obviously the method isn’t perfect- the Tennessee Titans were the first team to have a positive COVID-19 case, and since then, the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots all had confirmed cases.
All of these teams had a few cases, which is to be expected, yet somehow the Titans had 23 positive cases among their players and personnel. The outbreak started on September 21st, when the Titans signed free agent Greg Mabin who tested positive for COVID-19 three days later, even though he had tested negative before he entered the facility when he was signed. Then the linebackers coach Sean Bowen tested positive, causing much concern because he was in contact with many other players. On the 29th, eight players tested positive for the virus, and the Titans’ facility was closed for sixteen days, as positive tests kept pouring in.
There seemed to be a miscommunication and Titans players were malinformed. It seems as if several players believed that even though the facility was shut down, they were still permitted to practice outside of the facility, and they practiced on their own on a field of a private school in Nashville (Montgomery Bell Academy). An unnamed Titans player said that the team wasn’t told not to gather even outside of the facility until Oct 1. In this incident, the Proximity Recording Device was ineffective because the players practiced even after knowing they could have been exposed to COVID. The device ensures that teams know when they need to shut down their facilities and stop practicing, but these several players practiced anyway.
The NFL investigated the Titans outbreak and decided to fine them rather than forfeit their draft picks and their games. The NFL said that the Titans did not willingly break protocols and that there was a misunderstanding.
The NFL is using new and innovative technology to ensure the safety of the players, but there are still outbreaks among teams, and as cases in the country rise, cases in the NFL will rise as well. If the Proximity Recording Device is used correctly though, and teams follow protocols, it is very unlikely that there will be outbreaks across the NFL, just positive cases among some players.