Dr. Anthony Fauci: 'Feasible' for NFL to Play in Empty Stadiums Amid COVID-19

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2020

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 22, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the new coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington. Three members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Fauci, have placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, another stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

"The virus will make the decision for us."

That is what Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC Sports' Peter King when discussing the possibility of football returning.

"I think it's feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium," Fauci said. "Is it guaranteed? No way."

While he said it's "inevitable" there will be additional waves of the coronavirus during the fall and winter—the middle of the NFL season—he also suggested there could be fans filling "a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people could be six feet apart."

Fauci pointed to a number of factors that could help the sport return by September, such as more widely available testing, a better understanding of how to deal with the coronavirus and expanded antigen testing.

When King asked about a hypothetical with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes testing positive during the season, Fauci said, "It would be malpractice in medicine to put him on the field, absolutely."

For now, the NFL has the luxury of more time than other leagues such as the NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS had when social distancing and stay-at-home orders were just beginning to be part of the national lexicon.

The NBA and NHL both suspended their current seasons, with no formal plans in place to resume despite ongoing discussions, while MLB and MLS have not even started their 2020 campaigns.

The NFL has made a number of offseason adjustments, the most notable being canceling all public events surrounding the draft in Las Vegas and holding the event virtually. It was largely a success, as audiences got a behind-the-scenes glance at coaches, prospects and front-office members working from home.

Elsewhere, travel restrictions led to fewer opportunities to meet with free agents and draft prospects, and offseason activities have been canceled across the league.