When the Kansas City Chiefs took on the Miami Dolphins on January 13th, players contended with bitter-cold temperatures, but they had the benefit of heaters, regular breaks, and warm locker rooms.
Spectators wrapped up as best they could to deal with the bone-chilling conditions, but dozens required medical attention, raising questions about the NFL's threshold for postponing games due to extreme weather.
As the game at Arrowhead Stadium progressed, icicles formed on the thick beard of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. Wind chill plummeted to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. The contest was eventually deemed the fourth coldest in league history. Players huddled by the heaters on the sidelines when not on the field. Despite layers of warm winter garb, many fans couldn't stop shaking and shivering in the stands.
The Kansas City Fire Department responded to 69 people with cold-related symptoms throughout the afternoon and evening. Around half were specifically treated for hypothermia, which can set in even when temperatures are above freezing, but moisture and wind steal body heat quickly.
Frostbite was another common complaint, resulting in painful skin damage from extreme cold. Other issues ranged from nausea to uncontrolled shivering and loss of coordination. Fifteen attendees were transported to hospitals after receiving initial treatment on-site. Even star quarterback Patrick Mahomes had issues with his helmet cracking in the brittle conditions.
The dangerous terrain didn't stop the game from being held as scheduled, although an NFL game in Buffalo planned for the next day was postponed.
According to doctors, extreme hot and cold temperatures annually pose the top weather-related health risks in the country. But an expert argued football games aren't approached with the same risk management mentality as hurricanes or tornadoes barreling towards a city.
He observed that fans, workers, and volunteers at stadiums are vulnerable to immediate health hazards when the wind chill dips far below zero. The league does have cold weather protocols but may need to adopt more explicit safeguards before allowing thousands to sit outside for hours in bitter sub-zero conditions.
Games could potentially be rescheduled, delayed, or held at alternate venues to avoid putting spectators directly in harm's way.