The hysteria-inducing Ebola outbreak has been discussed in many forums, and now an NFL press conference can be added to that list. On Wednesday, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett answered questions about the virus, stating that the issue had yet to be discussed in the Cowboys’ locker room. However, with the news that a second Dallas nurse had been infected, he added that “at some point, we might have to [discuss Ebola].”
In a letter written directly to NFL team doctors and trainers, two physicians from the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network advised against screening players and personnel for any potential at-risk contacts given the relatively few number of Ebola cases in the United States. However, they did recommend that “medical personnel educate their players and staff about the need to inform club medical personnel in the unlikely event that they actually have such contact.”
So will this impact the NFL? Truthfully, not likely. In 2009, the United States suffered a real epidemic: H1N1 (Swine Flu). While multiple professional athletes were actually infected with the virus — most notably members of the St. Louis Rams — in addition to more than 45 million Americans, none of the major professional sports leagues cancelled a single game. The international response was different, with Mexican soccer leagues attempting to contain the outbreak by forcing teams to play games with no fans in attendance. While the fear of Ebola is enhanced by its potentially fatal outcome, there is less concern from infectious diseases experts that this outbreak will reach the scale of H1N1.
The Dallas Cowboys’ $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas is more than 25 miles away from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the only two documented cases of Ebola were contracted. It’s safe to assume that attending a Cowboys game doesn’t place fans at appreciable risk. However, with more than $15 million in ticket revenues for each home game, the team is taking the threat seriously, especially if fear could impact ticket sales or lead to cancelled games.
The NFL’s message is the same as the one from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: fans, players and staff are advised to maintain careful personal hygiene and avoid contact with anyone at risk of harboring the virus. So long as these measures are taken, the NFL will continue to play on.