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'It is hard': Lions banking on players making smart decisions in COVID era

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

As American professional sports resume this month, the novel coronavirus looms in the shadows, prepared to again rob fans of distractions from the everyday world. Look no further than the outbreak being experienced by the Miami Marlins for a reminder of how tenuous the immediate future can be. 

And it's safe to assume football will be the most difficult sport to execute successfully.  Unlike baseball, which is naturally conducive to social distancing, or the NBA and NHL, which are resuming their seasons in bubble locations to limit outside exposure, the NFL doesn't have that luxury. Not to mention, there are far more players in the NFL and football involves far more person-to-person contact. 

Matt Patricia

The NFL hopes to play its normal schedule by placing an emphasis on testing and education. The first wave of testing this week has already turned up dozens of positive cases, not unlike the other leagues when players first returned.

The Lions placed seven players on the league's COVID-19 reserve list this week, meaning nearly 8 percent of the roster has tested positive for the virus or have been recently exposed to someone else who has. 

But with testing and quarantining, the NFL hopes to quickly bring its total to zero, similar to the NBA and NHL, which each had no positives in their recent batches of testing. Yet, without the bubble, NFL teams will be reliant on players monitoring their own behavior and taking every possible precaution. 

"I think you're exactly right, it is hard," Lions coach Matt Patricia said Friday. "You can't control what people do when they leave the building, obviously."

More: With leg injury behind him, Lions' Matt Patricia limited by pandemic from hands-on coaching style

An obvious danger is players who don't take the virus seriously. Throughout the pandemic, studies and polling have shown up to 25 percent of Americans believe some unfounded conspiracy relating to the pandemic, and with more and more elaborate productions circulating on social media, it's easy to see why people are getting tripped up by misinformation. 

Earlier this week, Lions defensive tackle Da'Shawn Hand shared one such video, prompting a conversation with Patricia, who has taken the virus seriously from the onset. 

"Certainly, in these times, where you know when when we are quarantined, or we're sitting around, there are a lot of things that I think everybody is kind of trying to take in from videos to articles and reading more," Patricia said. "I think that's always really good when it's on an educational wave. I think it's important for everybody to understand that, look, however we feel about it, we have to go to the maximum extreme. So more is more, and we believe that, and so do of our guys.

"I think with Hand, he and I had a conversation and, quite frankly, Da'Shawn Hand cares about people," Patricia said. "I think that maybe, (he) probably should have saw everything that was involved with that. I think maybe that was just a little bit — that was not the intention I think of what he was trying to do. Great, great learning moment for everybody, right? Just a great opportunity for us to communicate and teach the team and say, 'Hey look, let's just be diligent with everything we're doing, and make sure that we're kind of understanding how that goes out.'"

An NFL locker room is a swath of society, an eclectic mix of backgrounds and beliefs. Patricia understands everyone isn't going to feel the same way about issues, including the pandemic. And he believes its important to listen to and respect the viewpoints of others, but he also knows not taking the virus seriously could spoil the chances of playing this season. 

His appeal to his players goes beyond football. He continues to remind them the decisions they make in their personal time are about caring for their teammates, and by extension, their teammates' families. 

"That's, you know, a real conversation, more so than even football," Patricia said. "We all have different situations. We have kids, maybe we have parents that live with us. We have people that are high-risk, based on all the different factors, and, certainly for us, the education piece and making sure that our players understand that there is a range of how people feel about this, but you know we have to hold it in the highest regard of making sure that we're all protected and that we're all safe.

"Honestly, you know we have good guys on this team," Patricia continued. "They do care. They do care about each other, they do care about people, in general. I think when you put it to them that way, sometimes it makes a lot of them just kind of step back and go, 'You know what, you're right. Let me make a good decision here, and let me make sure I'm thinking about the team and everybody else.'"