When visiting professional football teams have come to town this season, the Atlanta Falcons have primarily had to worry about being embarrassed on their home field. In the case of a recent visit by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, the Falcons were worried less about defeat than the possibility that the Bucs might bring traces of a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The case received a lot of attention late last month when pictures surfaced online of the cleaning crew arriving at the visitor’s locker room at the Georgia Dome decked out in full hazmat suits. The photos showed the crews heading into the Bucs’ locker room to scrub away any potential traces of the deadly MRSA bacteria, a scourge that has seriously impacted the Buccaneers this season.
According to media reports, three players in Tampa have been infected with the difficult-to-treat bug. MRSA is an especially virulent form of staph infection that has plagued not only the Buccaneers, but also the Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins over the past decade. The Buccaneers’ trouble has been so well-publicized that the New England Patriots also took the unusual step of fully decontaminating their visiting locker room following the Buccaneers’ preseason game in Boston earlier this year.
Though concussion dangers have been grabbing many headlines surrounding the NFL over the past several months, it appears that players have a new danger to fear; this one lurking right in their own locker rooms. MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an extremely nasty bacteria that is exceptionally hard to fight. MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics and is very difficult for doctors to treat through conventional means. Experts says that professional athletes are at an especially high risk of being infected with MRSA given that damp, crowded locker rooms present a prime place for the bacteria to thrive. The fact that players also frequently suffer injuries including scrapes which give MRSA the perfect chance to enter a body and wreak havoc is also a problem.
In one particularly tragic case, former Redskins defensive lineman Brandon Noble has come forward as an advocate for others suffering from infectious diseases. Noble discussed how he was among five players on the team to suffer a MRSA infection and how his was so severe that he nearly lost his leg and did lose his career because of the bacteria. Thankfully the Redskins took dramatic action to try and root out the MRSA that was spreading like wildfire through the team. The locker room facilities were completely overhauled in an $80,000 renovation with an eye towards creating a new setup that would discourage the spread of infectious diseases. Common benches were replaced with solo stools. A new ventilation system was installed to quickly dry out damp flooring. Special ultraviolet lights were installed to kill bacteria and the entire facility was sprayed with bleach to eliminate all remaining traces of MRSA.
Though it doesn’t appear that Atlanta is willing to go to such extraordinary lengths, the fact that NFL teams are sending in hazmat crews to clean locker rooms shows just how seriously the league is taking the problem. Over the years, multiple lawsuits have been filed by injured players claiming that the failure by teams to properly sanitize equipment and locker room facilities created an environment where dangerous bacteria like MRSA could thrive. If the league wants to avoid similarly costly suits in the future, it should be prepared to fully embrace the idea of deep cleaning.