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Stephon Gilmore's postgame hug of Patrick Mahomes has the NFL brushing up against its biggest COVID alarm bell yet

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5-min read

What exactly will it take, NFL?

It wasn’t one of your own über-wealthy team owners catching the coronavirus. It wasn’t multiple head coaches.

It wasn’t state mandates that have severely limited attendance in some stadiums and meant no attendance at all in others.

Will it take the current face of your league, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, the Muppet-voiced comeback kid who so far has seemed incapable of being taken down — certainly not by opposing defenses — to find out he’s COVID-positive before you act? Before you go through with some form of a season-altering measure in the name of safety?

Patrick Mahomes has already used his juice once this year in high-profile fashion. In early June, he agreed to be part of a video with other prominent Black players when they asked what it would take before the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell finally stood up and acknowledged that Black lives matter.

Goodell answered them in a video, saying in part, “We, the National Football League, condemn ... the systematic oppression of black people.” It’s widely believed that Mahomes’ participation in the video is what pushed Goodell to respond.

Will it take Mahomes’ involvement again, though this time in a potentially life-altering situation, before the NFL does something?

On Wednesday, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, revealed he tested positive for COVID-19. Less than 48 hours earlier, Gilmore’s Patriots played Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs, and the two met at midfield after the game to embrace.

Reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes met up face-to-face with Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who revealed he tested positive for COVID-19, after Monday night's game. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes met up face-to-face with Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who revealed he tested positive for COVID-19, after Monday night's game. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The truth is, it’s questionable whether the Patriots-Chiefs game should have even been played. The league has lulled itself into a false sense of security with testing, and the notion that a negative test the day before a game means a player is fine. According to the CDC, the incubation period for COVID-19 is between two and 14 days.

On Saturday, New England quarterback Cam Newton was placed on the COVID reserve list. Days earlier, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said no one is around the team facility more than Newton, and that he spends time talking and making connections with teammates in every position group and others around the team.

When no one else on the team tested positive on Sunday or Monday morning, the NFL allowed Patriots-Chiefs to go forward, with New England flying to Missouri for the postponed contest. They did take two planes there and back, with one plane for those who had been close to Newton in recent days and the other for those that hadn’t.

It doesn’t take a PhD to connect the dots on this.

But once again, a marquee matchup and the almighty dollar took precedent over common sense and erring on the side of caution for the health and safety of all involved and their families.

That includes Mahomes, whose fiancée is pregnant with their first child. Wednesday afternoon Mahomes told media it was a “little bit of a mental lapse” to embrace Gilmore postgame, and that he’s been sleeping in a different room from his fiancée as a precaution since Kansas City backup quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was found to be covid-positive.

Could Mahomes contract the coronavirus from a hug? Experts believe it’s highly unlikely.

But again: Until the pandemic is well under control, why take that risk? Why put not just the health of the darling of the league in jeopardy, but any player? Any coach? Any staff or family member?

Months ago, when the NCAA canceled March Madness and the 2020 Summer Olympics were put on hold and the NHL and NBA seasons were stopped, there were thoughts that the NFL had an advantage because the season wouldn’t be played for another few months, and therefore the league had time to plan.

That plan, it’s clear, was not good enough. As of this writing, there are four teams, the Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Las Vegas Raiders, with at least one positive player, and the Titans are just a hotspot unto themselves.

Going forward with a full-contact sport during a raging pandemic always seemed like an incredibly stupid idea to this writer, no matter how much any of us love the game or how empty your fall weekends might feel without them.

At this point, however, if the NFL insists on pushing forward (and we have no doubt it does), the only answer seems to be going into a bubble. That may mean pausing the games for a couple of weeks to get all of the logistics in place. It may mean millions in expenses team owners haven’t budgeted for.

But trust us, you’ll get it back. That’s why you wanted the season anyway: money. Your broadcast partners won’t care if every game is played at the same one or two stadiums, they just want the product and the ad revenue. You shouldn’t care because there’s no “home field advantage” in empty stadiums.

This is the challenge you face. The current Defensive Player of the Year has COVID. His teammate, a former MVP, might as well. How many more positive tests will it take?

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