Here’s a proposition: Let’s send a mix of 53 players onto the field at any given time for roughly three hours and allow them to play aggressive, hard-nosed, contact football while interacting with coaches, staff, and medical professionals on the sideline, all while the country is reeling from—or still is—a growing hotspot for positive cases of COVID-19. In order to mitigate the spread, however, we will not allow traditional interactions after the game and practice social distancing at that point.
If that was confusing, didn’t make sense, or seemed unhelpful it’s because it doesn’t and it is; but still, it’s the NFL’s position as it tries to implement measures to “ensure” player and staff safety in-season.
The point isn’t to make fun of the league—although that becomes increasingly easier to do—but to call into question its logic, moral standing, and priorities as hundreds of thousands of people prepare to risk their short- and long-term health for what? Our entertainment? Some naive sense of normalcy? The billions of dollars at stake for team owners and the league itself?
One of the problems here is the NFL is hearing concerns but not listening. There’s an ongoing global health crisis that has tremendously affected millions of people, and while its uncertainty stops us from talking in absolutes, it should also stop anything unessential. Getting players close enough to contract this disease and then turning around an offering ridiculous guidelines after the fact is unfortunately laughable.
NFL teams will now be “forbidden from postgame interactions within six feet of each other and jersey exchanges between players will be prohibited during the 2020 season,” NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Thursday. The ban was included in the new game-day protocols that will be implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic; other changes will prohibit on-field fan seating, force teams to travel to the stadium via bus, and bar media from the locker room, Pelissero added. These protocols, along with looming decisions regarding training camp, preseason and the regular season, are subject to change, according to the report, and “still a work in progress.”
It’s the latest in the roundabout the league is circling. The NFL should be at the forefront of actions taken to prevent the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and its late start date has given it a unique advantage it continues to overlook or just not consider.
“This is a perfect example of NFL thinking in a nutshell,” San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted Thursday after the news broke. “Players can go engage in a full-contact game and do it safely. However, it is deemed unsafe for them to exchange jerseys after said game.”
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson put it more plainly: “That’s DAMN SILLY bro,” and teammate Lonnie Johnson Jr. also noted the hypocrisy of the proposal.
“So I can’t play press either?” Johnson tweeted. “That’s not [six] feet.”
Players’ reactions continued and all, at least all that I saw, carried the same message: What are you doing, NFL?
We are getting spoiled with the return of sports we frankly don’t deserve. Countries around the world have made great strides in reducing and effectively eliminating COVID-19. In turn, sports returned with fans in stadiums; New Zealand is a prime example of this after it announced its eradication of the coronavirus, for the time being, in early June and welcomed fans back in a stadium for a Super Rugby game. Since then, New Zealand saw the return of the coronavirus which goes to show how unrelenting and unpredictable it is.
The NFL’s exhausting work trying to pretend it’s safe to play is becoming more frustrating as we see the toll this pandemic is taking. The league sent all teams protocols for training camp and the preseason, which included details on how to handle club personnel exposed to someone who tested positive last week, but even these measures, and extremely limited media access, don’t address the overt problem: the pandemic itself.
It isn’t slowing down. States are surpassing entire countries in terms of COVID-19 infections and still, the NFL wants to pretend that placing these arbitrary rules will help. People are continually putting themselves and others in danger by not taking the coronavirus seriously and the NFL’s continued missteps while trying to prove a point that goes against everything we know so far is the latest example of that.