The 2020 NFL Draft is going virtual, and that means a different look than any draft before it. Despite this, the league is trying to keep some aspects the same, including each team's "inner circle."
In years past, fans in the inner circle has been at the site of the draft, sitting in the crowd, waiting for the Patriots to make their picks. This year, however, those in the inner circle will take part, like most everything else these days, through a video chat. The Patriots were able to select a handful of fans to participate, and chose some dedicated and passionate season ticket members, club members, and other Patriots partners to represent the team on draft night. When you tune into the draft, you just might see some of those faces on Thursday and Friday night.
In this time where it is difficult to connect, we want to highlight the stories of Patriots fans (like this one), so let's introduce you to just some of the folks who will be cheering on the Patriots on the broadcast.
Marianne Ryan is an ER nurse at Rhode Island Hospital, who has been working in a Level 1 Trauma Center. Though she said she is used to crises, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge unlike any other.
"The magnitude of patients who are coming into our emergency room, sick and, absolutely terrified that they are not going to 'make it' through this illness, as well as working with staff, who are also anxious that they will contract this virus and give it to their families, can be sometimes overwhelming," Ryan said.
Despite this, Ryan said the support she and her coworkers have received from businesses and concerned citizens has been a boost. She said being selected to participate in the Patriots inner circle was a privilege.
"Although one might posture that any excitement at this juncture might be welcome due to social distancing restrictions, I do find it exciting to participate in draft night this year from this unique vantage point," Ryan said. "I am excited to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work that makes the draft night successful."
Karen Roderick has been loyal a Patriots fan for years, and it is something that has brought her family together since her two kids were young. While it is an honor, she said, to participate in the Patriots inner circle, it will make "a different kind of memory" for her and her family.
On March 7, Roderick's husband, Bill, passed away after an extended illness. The family held services on March 13, just before things came to a standstill in the face of COVID-19.
"In some ways we were better prepared to handle the isolation that has come with COVID-19. That being said we miss the hugs, and times spent being close to family and friends that would help us heal and distract from our grief. We do know that we were fortunate that we were able to conduct my husband's services and have that memory," Roderick said.
With the state of the world, Roderick recognized that so many families who are dealing with grief and loss aren't able to say goodbye in traditional ways, and her heart goes out to those who are processing that kind of loss in isolation.
"It's a tough thing to feel fortunate in our circumstances, but if you can try to keep perspective it's the only healthy thing you can do to keep moving forward," she said. "Being positive and moving forward was Bill's motto and that's always what we want to try to do to honor him."
For Roderick, draft night will be a way for her family, and football fans around the country and world to come together, in spite of all hurt, grief, and struggle.
"Everyone in the country is feeling some type of grief and loss of our usual routines right now," Roderick said. "Watching football together is such a collective experience for so many families, including ours, that participating in this year's draft gives us hope that football will return."
Trish Kennedy is the owner of Zudy, a proud partner of the Patriots that develops apps and works with their clients to digitize, especially as roles change and adapt during the pandemic.
For Kennedy, the pandemic has meant learning to adapt in her own life and juggle different roles to help those around her, but participating in draft night is a welcome distraction.
"It's a privilege to support the team," Kennedy said. "Finally, I get to talk about football with people who love and understand football."
While there is so much happening in our world right now, having something to bring people together is important, and Kennedy said allowing some fans to be a part of the night will only help.
"Allowing the fans to participate in this process was genius," she said. "It's a great way to build fan enthusiasm, and I'm desperate to participate in anything football."
Football is often a family affair, and that is certainly true for the Yood family. Steve Yood, his wife Marianne, and two sons Alex and Josh will be virtually participating in draft night as yet another way to tie them to their favorite team.
"We truly feel that we are part of the family," Yood said.
The past few weeks have been tumultuous for the Yood family. Alex, who attends University of Michigan, returned home and began showing symptoms of COVID-19. He recovered after two and a half weeks.
"To further complicate the issue, his brother is ventilator dependent; he is clearly most vulnerable to suffering serious consequences," Yood said. "Finally, their dad is a surgeon. It's not easy."
Though the past month has been difficult, scary, and heartbreaking for so many, these Patriots fans and more will have a chance to take a break from what's happening and simply enjoy being football fans. Ryan, Roderick, Kennedy, Yood are just four of 20 Patriots fans you'll see on the broadcast this weekend.