With Bay Area Air Even Worse Than Last Week’s ‘Orange Sky,’ Niners’ Kickoff Leaves Players in Danger

The 49ers Tevin Coleman did not practice earlier this week due to persistent poor air quality in the Bay Area.
The 49ers Tevin Coleman did not practice earlier this week due to persistent poor air quality in the Bay Area.
Image: (Getty Images)

Last Wednesday, the Oakland A’s played a night game hours after as the Bay Area turned into an orange hellscape. The stunning visuals, and the underlying poor air quality, made national headlines. Now, the air quality is even worse — and while it probably won’t stop the San Francisco 49ers from kicking off their season, it left at least one player sidelined for practice.


The Niners’ Tevin Coleman, who has the sickle cell trait, meaning he is easily affected by low oxygen levels and pollution, missed a practice earlier this week due to the persistently poor air quality in northern California. Despite those risks, the running back was on the active roster for today’s game against the Cardinals.

The Bay Area’s air quality index (AQI) the day of Wednesday’s A’s game was measured at 129. For some perspective, New York City’s AQI is currently 35, or “good,” according to government standards.

Cal Berkley Professor of Environmental Health Sciences John Balmes believes sports should not be played at an AQI over 151.

This morning, the AQI outside Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara read 171.

As of 11:51 am eastern, San Francisco’s AQI is 162 — “unhealthy.”

According to Wagoner, the NFL’s cancellation threshold for AQI is 200. Meaning this afternoon’s matchup between the 49ers and Cardinals could still kick off as scheduled at 4 pm east.


The air quality is due in large part to wildfires, fueled by climate change, raging across the Pacific Northwest at an unprecedented scale. It’s a global issue that has obvious ramifications for the sports world.

It’s a problem that’s not going away, no matter what legislators might say.

This is what happens when a “political” issue literally surrounds a stadium.

With no fans in the seats, it’s the players — like Coleman — who suffer the fallout.


According to the CDC, SCT is different from sickle cell disease (SCD). The disease is a genetic condition that causes a shortage of red blood cells and restricts blood flow. It can create “serious problems.” The trait is also genetic. But SCT carriers “usually” do not show the same symptoms of SCD. SCT is also most common among Black Americans, affecting 1 in 12.

If the NFL has the best interests of its players at heart, why the radio silence? Why the dangerously high threshold for cancellation in the event of poor air quality?


It’s a fundamental concern.

Not an “end racism” phrase tucked into the back of the endzone, or slogans on a jumbotron, but the actual air athletes breathe.


If today’s matchup is canceled — which is still highly unlikely — it won’t be due to positive COVID tests or a strike for racial justice. It would be because the Earth is growing uninhabitable.

Tevin Coleman may not be able to play today. He’s another participant in a sports world that thinks it operates in a hermetically sealed “bubble” — without politics, without racism, without sexism, and without any influence from beyond the stadium walls. The climate crisis has come to the stadium doorstep.


The only “bubble” that can stop this problem is the ozone layer, and that’s disappearing fast.