NFL games likely despite coronavirus, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank says

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has provided no indication yet that season will be altered

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Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is optimistic that the NFL will play games this fall despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that forced the sports world to a complete halt.

Unlike the NBA, MLB and other major sports leagues, the NFL was not in season when the coronavirus pandemic began and experienced no interruption in play other than the suspension of offseason training activities. Blank, who has donated $5 million to coronavirus relief efforts, said he believes the public health situation will have improved enough to allow for the NFL’s 2020 season to occur in some form.

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"I think that we will. That's my personal view," Blank said in an interview that airs Thursday night on NFL Network. "I'm not a physician, I'm not a scientist and what have you, but I read and follow everything else. I know that it's important, I think regardless of the sport -- the sport's important for lots of people for lots of reasons, not just the economics of it but to bring people together in a sense of community, sense of togetherness, et cetera, and a sense of purpose that they can join in together with. So I think there will be football.”

To date, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has provided no indication that the season itself will be altered. The league is expected to release its full schedule for the 2020 season on May 9, though the final version could change based on guidance from authorities and public health officials.

Blank acknowledged NFL games may have to be played at closed stadiums, without fans in attendance, in order to preserve public health. Proactive safety measures such as expanded testing for COVID-19 would help to reassure fans that pro sports should proceed, he added.

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"I think in the case of the NFL, so much of the product is absorbed by television, by media in different forms and formats, that even if we had to play some games without fans in the stands -- it's not preferable, it's not what our fans want, it's not what our players want, it's not what anybody wants -- but we could do it," Blank said. "I think so much focus is on the field itself and on the game itself that I think it would still be very acceptable and would be a great distraction for our fans."

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The 2020 NFL Draft will proceed as scheduled from April 23 to April 25. However, with team facilities shuttered until further notice, executives will make their draft picks from home in a virtual format. Goodell will announce first-round selections next Thursday night via a livestream from his basement.

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