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The Coronavirus Pandemic Puts The NFL Season At Risk


The NFL draft wrapped up this past weekend. And by all accounts, it was a whopping success, even with its social distancing configuration. A record number of sports-starved viewers tuned in for three days of teams drafting top prospects in college football. Well, now after all this excitement, we need a reality check. With the ongoing pandemic, will the NFL be able to start on time in - what? - a little over four months? Well, joining me now to help answer that question is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Hey, Tom.


CHANG: Good. So before we look forward, can you just tell us a little more about how this first-ever virtual draft went for the NFL? I mean, I imagine this draft was a much bigger deal than in years past because there's basically no other sports to pay attention to right now.

GOLDMAN: The NFL draft was it, Ailsa...

CHANG: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: ...And sports fans feasted on an actual live (laughter) sporting event. More than 55 million viewers over three days - that's a record. And the fun...

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Unique part of this remote broadcast was getting a rare look inside the NFL - from coaches' houses to the commissioner's basement, where Roger Goodell announced the draft selections. And he got more and more dressed-down as the draft wore on. He started the event wearing a blazer and a crisp shirt. And after a day or so, he was sitting in an overstuffed chair, wearing a T-shirt and eating cupcakes.

CHANG: (Laughter) I love it.

GOLDMAN: That is not that Roger Goodell we're used to seeing.

CHANG: OK, so now looking forward, what happens with all these players who just got drafted, all the veterans, as everyone's preparing for what they hope, at least, is going to be a pro football season?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it's a busy off season in normal years for football players after the draft, with mini camps and training, and for the new guys, something called the rookie football development program that - traditionally, it's more about teaching life skills and what to expect as an NFL player. Team facilities are still shut down, so all of this, including classroom instruction and workouts, are being done virtually. And with the workouts, teams are - can send players up to $1,500 worth of workout equipment along with smart watches and fitness monitors. So the league is trying to stay on schedule as much as possible, with training camps set to begin in the summer. In the NFL especially, training is critical. And if elements of pre-season training don't happen, that could mean the season start is pushed back.

CHANG: Well, despite all these inconveniences, we should point out that the NFL has been lucky - at least relatively speaking - because it didn't have its season interrupted like all these other sports did. What are we hearing about whether this season will go on as planned? Like, I mean, are they working with other pro leagues?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, right now NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says there will be pro football in the fall. The 2020 regular season is supposed to start September 10, even though, he says, it may be different. The NFL, obviously, is watching to see what happens with other leagues that have interrupted their seasons because of the outbreak. In fact, there's some movement announced today in the NBA. It's targeting May 8 for opening some team facilities to a limited amount of players at a time in cities that have relaxed stay-at-home restrictions, although that date could be pushed back if developments warrant a delay. Indeed, Ailsa, all leagues, the NFL included, are saying any restart or openings have to be done in consultation with health care officials.

CHANG: All right, that is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL ORCHESTRE'S "LES LUMIERES PART 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on