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The NFL Wants COVID-19 Victims To Be Statistics

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

You probably haven't thought about Ed Donatell very often this NFL season, because who really spends that much time thinking about the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator? If we're all being honest here, it's likely that very few of us have even noticed that he hasn't been on the Broncos' sideline for the last three games. So whatever happened to Ed?

Donatell, who is 63 years old, tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 1. Since then he has not been seen or heard from, and Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said this week that Donatell likely will not be returning to the team's facility ahead of this week's game against the Dolphins. That will make four games that Donatell's missed since his diagnosis, which appears to have been a serious one. The Broncos haven't exactly been forthcoming with updates about Donatell's condition, but yesterday linebacker Alexander Johnson revealed that Donatell had been hospitalized:

It's fair to assume that revelation caused a bit of a scramble in the Broncos' press office, which eventually put out a statement assuring everyone that Donatell has been released from the hospital and is now recovering at home:

The NFL's failure to effectively limit the spread of COVID-19 within its teams has mostly been communicated through the dry language of injury reports. Every week football fans see headlines and tweets about some number of players, coaches, and staff members testing positive for the virus, each presented in a way that makes the question of whether the infected will be able to participate in the week's upcoming game as the important issue at hand. Sometimes we even get a neatly packaged update that aims to put everything in perspective:

It's easy to be a sports fan, one whose brain has been trained to understand the value of big numbers and small numbers, and find yourself heartened by information like that. Not even 300 total positives out of 645,000 tests? That's not bad!

It becomes a bit harder to feel good about those numbers when you think about a specific case like Donatell's, and that he ended up in the hospital for no reason other than the NFL deciding that a deadly pandemic shouldn't stand in the way of its profit-generating machine. Or Jaguars running back Ryquell Armstead, who has been hospitalized twice with COVID-19 symptoms and is going to miss this entire season. Things get harder still when you think about those 175 non-players who have tested positive for the virus. Who are they? How old are they? What kind of symptoms have they all been dealing with? How long have they been sick? How many of them have been hospitalized, too?

We don't know the answers to these questions, and most likely never will, because having that information might make it too hard for everyone to agree that barreling forward with the rest of the NFL season while the pandemic rages is a sensible course of action. It's much better for the league that all those who have gotten sick remain as names and numbers on a list, right next to the guys who have sprained ankles or twisted knees.

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