NFL Players Association medical director Thom Mayer said he's optimistic the 2020 season will take place but that the union and the NFL will know a lot more in late May or early June about whether playing this season is viable.
Mayer discussed the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the NFL during an appearance Monday on a podcast hosted by ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Mayer said the NFLPA has created a COVID-19 brain trust that includes members from Harvard, Duke, Johns Hopkins, the CDC, the White House, the state department and the office of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The union has consulted with that group twice, and the first consultation led to the shutdown of team facilities last week.
Mayer noted every NFL team, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, is located near a coronavirus hotspot; he believes it won't be until late May or early June when those hot spots begin to open up. The timing means organized team activities are unlikely this year and a return with training camp is the likeliest scenario. The NFLPA would agree to the reopening of facilities only after consulting with its COVID-19 brain trust.
"So OTAs, probably not going to happen. As you know, the clubs are closed for now and will remain closed for a while. But I'm very optimistic," Mayer said. "You know, you look at somebody like Drew Brees and [wife] Brittany Brees gave five million dollars to New Orleans. And you may have heard Drew the other day say, 'Hang in there, hang tough.' And that's what we have to do. We have to hang in there and hang tough -- but we have to scenario plan for disasters in terms of the way we did it at 9/11."
Mayer pointed out he was the command physician at the Pentagon on 9/11, so he has experience with disaster planning.
"So all that stuff on our side is going through, and obviously we've encouraged the league to do their side and provide a safe environment, including how do we play games and what that might look like," he said. "So I'm optimistic by nature. We're smart people in America, and I think we can get this done."
Mayer wondered what games might look like if the league plays this season and if it could be similar to what "the NBA was thinking about, you could have games but not people in the stadium. How could you safely get people into the stadium? Does that involve taking temperatures, other screening procedures."
He said a return by training camp would likely be based on a model in which the country was shut down for four months.
"Now, if that happens, you're really great," he said. "What will those training camps look like? You know, we're encouraging scenario planning to say no non-essential people at training camp -- including crowds, for example. There's non-essential people from the club standpoint; then the fewer people available that might be carriers of the virus."
The United States currently has the most coronavirus cases in the world with nearly 162,000 cases as of Monday. Close to 3,000 have died in the U.S. because of the virus.