This year’s NFL Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 6 has been canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, marking the first major cancellation of an event on the NFL calendar for this upcoming season.
The Hall of Fame Game is the NFL’s annual preseason opener and is played in Canton, Ohio, days before the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Enshrinements scheduled for Aug. 8 have been postponed to Aug. 7, 2021.
The class of 2020 inductees includes former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol, former New York Giants executive George Young, former coaches Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher, and former players Troy Polamalu, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James, Isaac Bruce and Steve Atwater.
The NFL is also inducting a separate centennial class, featuring an overlooked group of early contributors to the game.
“This is the right decision for several reasons, first and foremost the health and welfare of our Gold Jackets, incoming centennial class of 2020 members, hall personnel and event volunteers,” Hall of Fame CEO David Baker said. “We also must consider the most appropriate way to fulfill the first tenet of our mission: To honor the heroes of the game. This decision meets that duty.”
Before Thursday’s cancellation, the league had often readjusted its schedule around the coronavirus. Organized team activities, for instance, were conducted strictly online, while the draft and free agency were held remotely.
The NFL still says it plans to conduct its season on time, with NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills saying last week the league would make the necessary adjustments to its health and safety protocols in order to play during the pandemic.
“We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed,” Sills said.
But NFL owners met Thursday to discuss a variety of topics, including whether additional changes to the schedule need to be made. Multiple reports indicate that the league is considering shortening this year’s preseason from four games to two.
Training camps for most teams are scheduled to begin July 28, though some players remain skeptical.
New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins called football a “nonessential business” and expressed concerns about a potential restart.”
Until we get to the point where we have protocols in place, and until we get to a place as a country where we feel safe doing it, we have to understand that football is a nonessential business,” Jenkins told CNN. “And so we don’t need to do it. And so the risk has to be really eliminated before we — before I — would feel comfortable with going back.”
Multiple players have tested positive for the virus over the past few months, including stars like Denver’s Von Miller and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott. Appearing on the streaming platform Twitch, Elliott said Wednesday he was also concerned about the league’s plans. He said coronavirus “really didn’t affect me much,” but said he was worried about affecting other families.
“I just don’t know how they can keep the players (healthy),” Elliott said. “You gotta put the health of the players first. And it’s not even so much, I would say, the players’ health . … We have to find ways to make sure that players and their families — and the coaches also and their families — aren’t put at risk.”
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Sills said the NFL is setting up a “very ambitious testing program,” but added, “testing alone will not be sufficient to keep everyone healthy. It’s vitally important to keep social distances and use masks when possible.”
He said the league was keeping track of its coronavirus cases, though declined to reveal the exact number.
⦁ This story is based in part on wire service reports.