PHILADELPHIA — Doug Pederson wasn’t interested in revealing how he was, or how he might have been, infected with the coronavirus.
“It’s something that I don’t necessarily want to comment on for myself or speculate on for anyone else,” the Eagles coach said Monday during a virtual news conference, a day after he tested positive.
Pederson’s affliction, even if he is asymptomatic, might be a litmus test for the eventuality that others will unknowingly bring COVID-19 into the NovaCare Complex. He is believed to have contracted COVID-19 from outside the team facility and to have not spread it to Eagles coaches, players, and personnel with whom he was in close contact, team sources said.
But Pederson and the team aren’t out of the woods — he could still develop symptoms and it could take days before the Eagles know if others had contracted the virus — and the same could be said of the season as a whole.
There will be more individual cases. The fear is that one will lead to more, or possibly an outbreak that could pose significant harm to those most vulnerable, and to a lesser extent the Eagles’ season. Assuming Pederson had taken the necessary precautions, even he wasn’t immune.
“One of the things that we all need to learn and what I need to learn, taking away from this, is obviously we need to protect ourselves when we are in the community away from the building,” Pederson said from his home office, “continue to wash our hands, wear our mask, do the social distancing that medical teams and doctors have prescribed.”
But that clearly isn’t enough and won’t be enough with the NFL moving forward without bubble-like environments, players free to return to their homes and families on a daily basis, and contract tracing restricted to team facilities.
Pederson can harp on the importance of self-quarantining and of how one player can affect another, but similar warnings about personal conduct and responsibility haven’t previously stopped players from off-the-field incidents. Perhaps that is why he said he won’t have additional rules for social distancing outside the NovaCare.
“It’s typical training camp,” Pederson said. “We have curfew at 11 (p.m.) at the hotel. The days are filled. We’re on a 12-hour workday with the players, and there’s not a lot of time at the end of the day. Once they leave the building, they are on their own, and it’s up to me and my staff and our trainers and doctors to educate them on the protocols outside of the building.”
For most players, there are more than enough reasons to not risk getting the coronavirus; chief among them, perhaps, is hindering their opportunities with the team. Doing the bare essentials should be easy enough, and that includes extreme examples like avoiding large indoor gatherings.
But what about seeing a family member, or a girlfriend, or simply engaging with a stranger during a walk outside? Are players prepared to go to the other extreme?
“This season I think you have to just stay kind of in your own bubble,” rookie defensive end Casey Toohill said Sunday. “I’d love to see my family, and I’m sure if that’s permitted and time permits, that’s something I’ll try to do.
“But besides that … I’m really going to try to follow the guidelines, follow the rules, just so we can have a season.”
Toohill, a seventh-round draft pick, has little room to wiggle. Top pick Jalen Reagor has a longer leash, but he said that he will stay at the team hotel in the Navy Yard and be cautious in his interactions.
“Making sure the people I do put myself around, that they’re not harming me,” Reagor said last week. “It’s pretty easy. I’m a home guy anyway, so being in a hotel, that’s fine with me.”
Pederson said that veterans have the option of staying at the team hotel. It’s unclear if it’s only for camp and how many made that choice. It’s likely most will elect to stay at their own homes, especially those with families.
But most players aren’t married or have children. Young men can be prone to carelessness, and it would be natural for professional athletes to have a sense of invincibility. Still, most NFL players have gotten this far because of a strict adherence to discipline.
“You’ve got to be a professional 24/7, not just when you’re in the building, but how do you take care of yourself out of the building and be smart and handle your business?” Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said last week. “We really are all in this thing together. We say that all the time, it’s kind of the cliché thing, but it has a little different meaning this year.”
Three Eagles — tackle Lane Johnson, linebacker Nate Gerry and tackle Jordan Mailata — have already been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Johnson confirmed that he had tested positive but said he had no symptoms as of Wednesday.
Wentz spoke of team leaders policing others, but even if the Eagles are to avoid further cases through camp, the season offers its own challenges once games begin. The Miami Marlins’ outbreak showed how one domino falling is bound to affect another. And baseball has far less contact than football.
Pederson, despite his personal experience, doesn’t seem inclined to take more cautious measures. He said that the Eagles had no plans to quarantine Wentz full time even though two starting quarterbacks — the Lions’ Matthew Stafford and the Jaguars’ Gardner Minshew — both went on reserve/COVID-19 last week.
The Saints were reportedly planning to self-quarantine the team — specifically Tier 1 and 2 individuals — during camp. New Orleans’ Sean Payton, who was the only NFL coach before Pederson to test positive for the coronavirus, preferred to use the term “sequester” rather than “bubble.”
Nevertheless, Pederson said that the Eagles will continue as is. He spoke of being a “kind of an ambassador” to “educate our team on how to protect ourselves outside the building.” But Pederson, for the most part, seemed unfazed by his setback and undaunted about the NFL season.
“My confidence hasn’t changed at all. I’m extremely optimistic,” he said. “I feel like we’re going to play; I’m confident that we are going to play.”
That makes one.
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer