LOS ANGELES — The clash of the pads. The rush of cleats on a field. The hard knock of a tackle. These are the sounds of full contact practice — sounds that define the game of football.
“We’re banging out there, getting ourselves back into football shape," Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "It’s a part of the sport that makes it fun."
But some on the outside are concerned that what makes football fun will also be its demise during the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Scott Braunstein, a doctor of emergency and internal medicine who heads Sollis Health's new Los Angeles practice, says the nature of the game is inherently dangerous.
“It’s just hard to imagine a more risky activity right now," he said.
Braunstein served as the Rams sideline doctor from 2016 to 2019, getting an up close and personal look at the team and the sport.
“When I first got the position, being on the field, on the sidelines, I described it as just magical," Braunstein said. "But at the same time I also got to see how closely they interact, how hard they hit each other, the type of contact that they have that does portend for risk, especially during a pandemic.”
That type of contact is what Donald has built his career off of as one of the best defensive players in the game. And while he's taking the necessary COVID precautions seriously at training camp, one thing he and many others won't do is wear a face shield.
“That little mask right there [isn't] going to protect nothing," he explained. "If somebody gets the virus, we're all getting it. We just gotta go out there and play and hopefully everybody’s good.”
NFL teams are doing what they can to make sure that happens. Both the Rams and the Chargers have revamped their camps, testing players daily until at least September 5, instituting social distancing, and providing contact tracers.
But Braunstein maintains it is not enough. “Because they’re not in a bubble, these players are going home to their families, so we know there are going to be cases," he said.
Though he won't be on the sidelines this year, Braunstein has been keeping a close eye on both teams — trying to answer the question all fans are asking: will there be a full season of NFL football?
“I really have serious concerns about them being able to complete the season," he said, "more importantly about the players health.”
Despite the grim outlook, Chargers veteran Joey Bosa said at the end of the day, when it comes to staying healthy, the players shoulder the responsibility.
“Honestly, I think the most responsible team this year is going to be the one that wins," Bosa said. "It’s just going to take guys not to get too comfortable ... it’s going to be up to us keep each other accountable.”
Accountability and responsibility, Bosa said, are key. After all, both the Rams and Chargers season and safety depend on it.