Over the years, the NFL has received more than its fair share of criticism. But, if we're quick to point out the league's shortcomings, it's equally important to highlight the good when an opportunity presents itself. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has hit this country hard and with reckless abandon, so much so that 25 million Americans have been affected by the disease. So, now, more than ever, we must search for, and hang on to, the rays of light and silver linings that manage to break through the shroud of darkness.
On January 22, commissioner Roger Goodell announced that, in addition to the 14,500 fans being allowed to attend, the NFL is inviting 7,500 vaccinated health care workers to Super Bowl LV as a way to thank these heroes for the tremendous daily sacrifice they continue to endure throughout the COVID pandemic. Since the game will be hosted by the city of Tampa Bay, most of these individuals will be from various hospitals and health care systems in central Florida. However, all 32 teams are being given the opportunity to handpick deserving members of their local community to be in attendance.
In addition, the NFL has said to expect a variety of "special moments", both in Raymond James Stadium as well as during the CBS broadcast, which the league will use to honor health care workers around the country. During his announcement, Goodell stated that allowing fans to attend this year's Super Bowl was not a decision the league made lightly. And it does appear as if the NFL has done its due diligence, having in-depth discussions with the CDC as well as other public health officials in the name of safety. During the game, strict protocols will be enforced, including controlled entry, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, as well as contactless concession stands and restrooms.
The Chicago Bears teamed up with former cornerback, Charles Tillman, and Advocate Aurora Health to give four Chicago area health care workers the chance to attend Super Bowl LV. Alicja and Jacob Salman, hospitalists at various Advocate Aurora locations, Shawndra Ferrell, home health nurse with Advocate Trinity Hospital, and Carl Paige, facility operations at Advocate Trinity Hospital, have all been gifted a free trip to Tampa to see the Buccaneers take on the Chiefs.
This is a truly heartwarming gesture that should, at least temporarily, endear the NFL to its fan base during a season that saw the league's viewership ratings slip by 10%, ending a two-year run of audience growth. This year's showdown had already given us so much to look forward to; Brady vs. Mahomes, Reid vs. Arians, Tyreek Hill attempting to break the sound barrier, talking babies trying to get you to buy stocks. But Super Bowl LV has now added an extra layer to its onion, honoring those who continue to selflessly put their lives on the line for the sake of ours. Well played, Mr. Goodell.