Sports Illustrated: NFL Team Doctors Are Now on the Front Lines Fighting COVID-19

Apr 21, 2020

After the NFL Physicians Society made the decision to suspend football-related medical visits, it freed up doctors to help their communities fight the coronavirus pandemic.

A team physician for the Washington NFL team has spent the past four weeks sleeping in a spare child-sized bed in his home, and he expects he’ll do so for the next two months. When John Tabacco returns home from serving his community in Virginia during the COVID-19 pandemic, he takes extra measures to protect his wife and three young kids.

Across the country, in Santa Clara, Calif., the most anticipated part of 49ers team doctor Anthony Saglimbeni’s day is now seeing how many coronavirus test kits his primary-care practice will receive. Some days it’s zero; other days, it’s two or three. Once, they received a dozen. The ebb and flow means that a patient may come in with identical symptoms as someone Saglimbeni tested just a few days earlier, but if he doesn’t have any kits, this patient won’t get tested.

“It’s a very odd time,” said Tabacco. “You like to think you are prepared for most problems you encounter, but there’s this overwhelming sense that there’s a growing surge of a problem that we don’t have too many answers for and not a lot of empirical evidence about.”

For health professionals, fighting this surging pandemic has become an all-hands-on-deck call. Which is why, in March, a few days after free agency opened, the NFL Physicians Society decided to suspend all football-related medical visits, including physicals for free agents and draft prospects. “At a time of the most serious pandemic in our lifetime, we believe medical resources should focus on those who are ill or in need of care,” Anthony Casolaro, co-head physician for Washington and the president of the NFLPS, wrote in a letter to the league and players association. “We look forward to examining players when it is appropriate to do so.”