Health care workers have mixed feelings watching sports

After spending parts of five years as a wide receiver in the NFL, anesthesiology resident Nate Hughes said he certainly plans to tune in to football season this fall. He still has friends in the league, after all, and relationships with some of the coaches.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, with more than 4.8 million confirmed cases across the country, Hughes admits he probably won’t watch NFL games in the same way. Not after working on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic. 

“I’m caught in the middle,” Hughes told USA TODAY Sports. “I love sports, but at the same time, I wish we would do more to protect each other.”

Hughes is one of many front-line health care workers who are now watching the return of professional sports leagues with mixed feelings, or a pit in their stomach — a certain uneasiness as they try to reconcile their fandom with the knowledge that playing games may put athletes and others at risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Nate Hughes, a former NFL wide receiver now training to be an anesthesiologist, poses for a 2017 photo.

Doctors and nurses understand better than most the positive impact that sports can have on mental health, both for themselves and their patients. They love being able to watch a game after a long shift, or see a patient use sports as a temporary escape from his or her hospital bed. But they also understand better than most what COVID-19 can do to the human body, leaving many of them torn.