NFL coronavirus safety needs to be top priority for 2020 season: 49ers star George Kittle

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San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle and his fellow NFL players will return to the practice field later this month to prepare for an upcoming season under the ever-present threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Kittle, 26, is widely regarded as the NFL’s best tight end and was a key cog in a 49ers offense that reached the Super Bowl last February. While COVID-19 has derailed other pro sports leagues and raised questions about the NFL’s outlook, Kittle said he is excited to get back on the field, so long as "the players’ health and safety is at the top of everyone’s priority list."

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“The protocols will be ever-changing because we haven’t had 90 to 100 guys in the locker room since this all happened,” said Kittle, who spoke to FOX Business Wednesday on behalf of Gatorade’s “Beat the Heat” campaign. “As long as people are being honest about how they’re feeling and we can stick to the protocol as best we can, or if we need to switch the protocols up so guys can stay safe, I’m looking forward to it.”

NFL players are set to begin training camp on July 28 after a disjointed offseason in which most team facilities were forced to shut down completely. League officials are still working through safety protocols for the upcoming season, including the possibility that some players could opt out because of the health risks.

Like other pro sports leagues, NFL officials are faced with the difficult task of keeping players in a high-risk environment that includes frequent travel and close-quarters conditions in locker rooms.

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“It’s hard to be social distanced when I’m playing tight end and I have to block a defensive end that’s 6 inches away from me. So that is definitely something that you think about,” he added. “But like I said, if they can keep the players safe and they think they have the protocols in place to do that, then I’m looking forward to playing football."

Kittle, Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt and Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram are among several NFL players participating in Gatorade’s “Beat the Heat” campaign. The public service announcement aims to educate young athletes about the importance of staying hydrated while exercising in the summer heat.

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With gyms closed around the country and NFL facilities shuttered throughout the summer, outdoor exercise has been a staple for players getting ready for the season.

“The spring football stuff all got canceled, and so it’s more on the athlete to come back to camp in the best shape that they possibly can be, so that’s what I’ve tried to focus on,” Kittle said. “We report on the 28th, and so I’m preparing like my season starts on the 28th. I know there’s a lot of uncertainty with the season ahead, but as an athlete and especially being an NFL player, it’s my job to be prepared."

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