After a 90-minute video conference with NFLPA officials Friday, and also including input from the NFL after it conducted a chat with owners from its 32 teams, here’s the biggest takeaway from those two sessions:
Game on! The league is moving forward with its schedule for the start of training camps, as well as the season.
While cases of coronavirus have spiked in a few cities of note, it’s full steam ahead for the NFL.
Of course, that doesn’t mean DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, and JC Tretter, the Cleveland Browns center who currently serves as the president of the NFLPA, didn’t voice serious reservations on behalf of their constituency.
They were very much on point with their message, offering plenty of concerns with regard to the health and safety of players amid this pandemic, and the repercussions for those who might get infected with COVID-19. That was first and foremost on their minds.
To that end, let’s hit on a number of points made by Smith and Tretter, and decipher the meaning.
One: Smith said several times the NFLPA didn’t have any authority over start dates, that it’s all on the league, as both the Chiefs and Texans have rookies reporting as early as Monday, with other teams following suit the rest of the week.
“The union doesn’t decide opening and closing (dates),” Smith said. “The appropriate way of looking at this is, what are the factors that we believe the league should be utilizing in order to make decisions about the health and safety of the players.”
Translation: Don’t blame us if this turns out to be a disaster. Don’t say we didn’t try to push things back or express legitimate concerns so the league would make the “right decision” with respect to getting football back, as opposed to a “fast decision.”
We’re not in charge of the plan. That’s the NFL.
Two: Time and again, Tretter drove home the fears players have expressed about their safety, and wanting answers from the league before jumping on a plane.
“We have players who are nervous about flying from a relative safe location directly into a hotspot with their families, with their kids, with their wives. That’s a major concern with stuff going on in Houston, in Miami,” said Tretter. “How safe is it? Our job is to hold the NFL accountable and answer those questions… how safe is it to start up a football season with locations in this country going through giant spikes with this virus? That has to be something that has to be looked at.”
Translation: The concerns are legitimate. Closer to home, plenty of Patriots players have chimed in with these issues, namely the McCourty brothers, Jonathan Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and Patrick Chung.
They can’t fathom traveling to virus hot spots, and also playing a contact sport amid a pandemic, especially with players locked in the trenches, face mask-to-face mask.
Smith, however, acknowledged that even with those concerns, the NFLPA hasn’t had any player formally tell them they’d like to opt out of this season. Maybe the closer it gets, we’ll see some players stay home.
As for playing preseason games, the NFLPA expressed the desire to dump all of those games. They preferred an “acclimation period,” with practices, to protect players from getting hurt in games due to the shortened on-field time.
At this stage, it looks like there will be one pre-season game for teams to assess personnel, while also getting used to the new protocols.
Three: The union called an “emergency meeting” Thursday night with team doctors to discuss coronavirus concerns. Let’s just say they didn’t get all the answers they might have hoped for.
“The doctors (Thursday night) on the call said, with a couple of reservations, that it was safe to open training camp. And they provided their medical reasons,” said Smith. “Some of the things we agreed with, some of the things we may not have, but overall, they gave their medical opinion it was safe to open training camp.”
Translation: Should anyone be surprised team doctors would side with the view of the people who are paying them, saying it’s OK for teams forge ahead?
Maybe that’s not completely fair to the doctors, but it sure comes to mind.
On the positive side, during that call, they did get info on the Infectious Disease Emergency Response from teams that they will be reviewing to make sure they’re in line with previously discussed protocols. So that’s progress, and once that’s agreed on, they can take care of other issues, such as what happens with the salary cap going forward with the expected revenue losses, and how best to settle that.
Four: Both Smith and Tretter outlined scenarios that needed to be addressed with regard to players who test positive, and making sure players will still get paid, and have medical insurance to cover future implications. With respect to the possible spread, Tretter, a center, painted an interesting scenario: If one offensive lineman got the virus, did that mean the entire line would be quarantined and miss the next game?
“If I just came from a practice where I’ve been in a huddle with all of my offensive teammates, and spent individual drills with all my linemen, then blocking the defensive linemen and linebackers all afternoon, aren’t we talking about 35 guys being in close contact with me,” said Tetter. “And if they’re all in quarantine for the next couple days, what does Sunday’s game look like? And those are the questions the league needs to offer their opinion on how this will move forward… I mean, one positive test on a wrong day late in the week derails an entire team.”
Translation: This really needs no translation. It’s a legitimate concern, and one the league has to address.
Five: Smith was asked his level of optimism at getting all the concerns addressed. He provided this gem in response: “I don’t have one of those jobs that has to be pessimistic or optimistic. It just is.”
Translation: Spoken like a true lawyer.
Six: While trying to make decisions that are best for the players’ health and safety, Smith offered one simple and basic solution for all.
“We’re in a place right now, where very simply, what’s good for the country, is good for sports,” he said. “And, as simple as something like wearing a mask will have probably the most significant on the extent and whether sports return in this country. That’s not a political statement; that’s a common sense and scientific statement… nothing will bring fans back to our stadiums, than a simple decision across the country to wear a mask.”
Translation: He believes people’s attitudes toward the virus, inside and outside of football, are critical in giving sports a chance. He’s right. Unless people abide by the mask rules, and states don’t get lax with enforcing mask-wearing, the virus is going to spread.