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The NFL’s Hygiene Theater Now Includes Stupid Robots

NFL fans
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The NFL has been forced to cancel this week’s Steelers-Titans games after the Titans produced a string of positive COVID-19 tests, and it’s still unclear when exactly the game will be made up. Meanwhile, more than 40,000 Americans tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday and 955 died of the disease, bringing the country’s total COVID-19 death toll to 211,740. Now, would you like to spend some time thinking about how this pandemic is not slowing down at all, and perhaps consider that life can’t go back to normal just because we want it to? Or do you want to read about some sick-ass robots that are going to exterminate the dastardly virus and ensure that the United States of America continues getting served its hot NFL action every weekend?

A few publications have decided that your answer to that second question is “Hell yeah, baby! Oh hell yeah!” Here’s CNBC, eager to tell you all about the $125,000 “virus-killing robot” that the Carolina Panthers will start deploying at their home stadium as they plan to start allowing fans back into games:

According to Xenex, the robot can kill the virus that causes Covid-19 in minutes using “pulsed xenon, a noble gas, to create Full Spectrum, high-intensity UV light that quickly destroys infectious germs.”

And here’s ESPN, fawning over the Falcons’ plan to unleash a squadron of virus-destroying drones in their stadium:

Mercedes-Benz Stadium partnered with Charlotte-based Lucid Drone Technologies for D1 disinfecting drones to sanitize areas. The drones use electrostatic spraying nozzles for even distribution of medical-grade disinfecting chemicals that include an inhibitor that prevents bacteria and virus from adhering to surfaces without leaving a residue. The nontoxic hypochlorous acid solution is in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards, according to the company.

Two drones will be used to clean the stadium, and the team will have a third as a backup.

You don’t even need to spend any time trying to figure out if these robots are actually capable of eliminating viruses from surfaces to understand how stupid this is. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the coronavirus spreads most often through person-to-person contact—via respiratory droplets that escape a person’s nose and mouth when they talk, sneeze, shout about football near each other, etc.—and far less often from surface-to-person contact. This is because the virus cannot survive for very long on surfaces, which is something that has been known for many months now. So, unless these drones and robots are going to be blasting disinfectant directly into the faces of fans who scream in close proximity to another fan, they aren’t going to do much to make attending an NFL game any safer.

The Falcons and Panthers know this, of course, but then meaningfully reducing the risk of catching COVID-19 in their stadiums isn’t why they purchased these anti-disease robots. They were purchased so that dorks in the media would write news articles about them, and in so doing demonstrate to football fans across the country that these teams are Reacting Very Strongly to the dreaded virus, and Taking Decisive Action to ensure that attending a game is Safe and Secure.

Then again, taking our shoes off at the airport has kept us safe from terrorism for nearly two decades now, so maybe these robots really will get the job done.