More questions than answers remain about playing football in 2020.
Update July 21, 2020: The NFLPA now says at least 59 players have tested positive for COVID-19 and there will be no preseason games in 2020. They had accidentally listed 95 players.
Symptom-based criteria were modified as follows per NFLPA:
- Changed from “at least 72 hours” to “at least 24 hours” have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications
- Changed from “improvement in respiratory symptoms” to “improvement in symptoms” to address expanding list of symptoms associated with COVID-19
ORIGINAL STORY: The NFL Players Association reveals at least 65 active players tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 18, per data provided by NFLPA.com.
That amount is the equivalent to an entire NFL team and group of practice squad players. With only eight weeks prior to the 2020 season, that’s obviously not a good sign.
On top of safety concerns, NFL owners feel the need to play hardball with the NFLPA regarding salaries and contract structure in the midst of a pandemic — despite historically lucrative TV deals that will likely guarantee league-wide profitability in 2020 even with no fans in attendance. In fact, the league even added a new domestic TV deal with Nickelodeon during the pandemic.
It’s almost as if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners watched how MLB bungled pandemic-era negotiations and thought “we could do that, but better.” And by better, I mean worse.
The NFL released a statement regarding its club call on July 17: ”NFL clubs met today via videoconference and received an update on preparations for the 2020 season. We will continue to implement the health and safety protocols developed jointly with the NFLPA, and based on the advice of leading medical experts, including review by the CDC. We will address additional issues in a cooperative way. All decisions will be made in an effort to put us in position to play a full regular season and postseason culminating with the Super Bowl which is the shared goal of the clubs and the players.”
Hopefully, NFL safety protocols aren’t as vague as that statement. With coronavirus cases surging across the U.S., the NFL needs to get its act together. Fast.
Update 7/19/20: JJ Watt confirms players are still in the dark about safety protocols, as training camps are about to begin. A terrible look for the NFL:
Once again in the interest of keeping everyone (players & fans) as informed as possible, here is an updated list of what we as players know and don’t know as the first group gets set to report to training camp tomorrow.#WeWantToPlay pic.twitter.com/xQcjs33zgM— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) July 19, 2020
Earlier this month, NFLPA President J.C. Tretter (Cleveland Browns center) released the following statement regarding the 2020 NFL season:
Our normal return date for training camp is quickly approaching and we are still far from back to “normal.” Our main concern is player safety, both in regard to preventing the virus’ transmission as well as preventing injuries after an extended and historically unique layoff.
Like many other industries, football’s resistance to change is based on the belief that the best way to run things is the way we’ve always run things. That pervasive thought process will stop this season in its tracks.
Since March, we have had hours of return to work meetings, reviewed research and developed detailed protocols — all of which will be wasted if the NFL refuses to think and act differently when it comes to getting through a full season. Players don’t just want to return to work; we want to stay at work.
We did our due diligence and reviewed the impact of returning to play football after an unusually long period away. For example, following the extended break after the 2011 lockout, injuries increased by 25%. Achilles injuries more than doubled and hamstring strains went up 44%.
As a preventative measure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFLPA and NFL formed a Joint Committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches to develop protocols designed to bring players up to full speed in a healthy way when they return. The NFL initially accepted and implemented the Joint Committee’s suggestions, including items like no joint practices and no fans at training camp. However, the NFL was unwilling to follow the Joint Committee’s recommendation of a 48-day training camp schedule. Despite these experts’ assessment that teams face a serious risk of player-injury spikes this year (based on past NFL data and recent findings from sports leagues that have already returned to play this year), the NFL is unwilling to prioritize player safety and believes that the virus will bend to football.
Tied to these safe, return-to-work recommendations, there is a similar disagreement in regard to the number of preseason games. The NFL has recently stated it wants to play two preseason games. When we asked for a medical reason to play games that don’t count in the standings during an ongoing pandemic, the NFL failed to provide one. The league did provide a football reason, though — to evaluate rosters. The NFL also stated that it was important to stage preseason games to check how our game protocols will work.
With no medical reason provided for holding any preseason games and the desire to follow the Joint Committee’s recommendations, the NFLPA Board of Player Representatives unanimously voted against any preseason games this season.
Every decision this year that prioritizes normalcy over innovation, custom over science or even football over health, significantly reduces our chances of completing the full season.
We don’t want to merely return to work and have the season shut down before we even get started. The NFLPA will do its part to advocate for player safety. We will continue to hold the NFL accountable and demand that the league use data, science and the recommendations of its own medical experts to make decisions. It has been clear for months that we need to find a way to fit football inside the world of coronavirus. Making decisions outside that lens is both dangerous and irresponsible.
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