With the 2020-21 NFL season set to begin on Thursday, the panic of a pandemic stares them in the face, leaving many wondering if the NFL will survive.
Herman Melville once said, “Ignorance is the parent of fear.” A common perception in most circumstances, it seems the words mesh well together. Being ignorant generally means not possessing important knowledge, or finding reasons to hide from that information. This is usually due to a fear of understanding different perspectives. Yet the NFL has taken this concept and flipped it on its head. Rather, they are turning the two terms into bitter foes.
Despite how the sports world has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL has decided to continue on with their season outside of a bubble. This means they did not alter any of the 32 teams’ 16-game schedules. Athletes, coaches, management, trainers and everyone else involved will continue to travel across the country. Many are questioning how this laxed approach will influence this upcoming campaign.
We must make something very clear — it is not as if the NFL has done nothing. Like most leagues, they will have a strict testing protocol that will insinuate daily tests. This will implement a “Reserve/COVID-19” list for players that do test positive, and in order to return to the field, they will have to pass several steps that would take well over two weeks to fulfill. The league is also introducing a contact tracing service through a third party known as IQVIA, which will monitor players who test positive and who they have been in contact with through practice or competition.
While they failed to postpone any games this season or change the formatting of the initially announced team schedules, the NFL did cancel all preseason games in August. They also canceled all international games in London and Mexico City in order to follow CBP’s strict border policies, while also keeping their personnel safe.
They seem to be introducing harsh fines towards players and management who defy the safety agreement that is in place. All members are required to wear masks while off the field. Travel will be limited for each team to only 70 staff members, including players. Athletes are prohibited from attending events that violate state restrictions, and even if the event may be legal, the league has required they wear a mask.
However, despite the tyrannical reputation that often embodies the NFL, the league has allowed parties to make decisions with some freedoms. For example, players were allowed to opt-out of the season while also earning a piece of their salary. In total, 67 players opted out before the deadline of Aug. 6. They have also allowed teams the option of hosting fans at home games as long as they minimize the stadium capacity. In total, six clubs have decided to host fans, while the remaining 26 were not willing to take the chance.
The argument could be made that the league exceeded expectations in terms of their protocol. With the NFL often leading people dissatisfied with their responses to national crises (e.g. their acknowledgment of Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice in which the quarterback ended up filing a grievance of collusion against league owners), many speculated whether the NFL would put player safety first.
The NFL will say they did, and their recent actions towards responding to COVID-19 may carry some ammunition in their fight of defending a moral responsibility. Yet, the other side of the discussion will argue the opposite due to the mere fact they are playing.
It is a full-contact sport. A game that often brags about blood, sweat and tears in their blueprint. Does that sound like the smartest thing to play while a global pandemic, which gets transmitted through physical touch, is shifting the foundation of our livelihoods?
People will point to hockey, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are strolling along with cases not playing a factor. But the glaring difference of playing in a bubble and not must be addressed, as both the NBA and NHL are committing to this plan and are seeing zero positive tests week after week.
The MLB, on the other hand, has not been in a bubble and has had multiple teams stop daily operations and postpone games because of the pandemic reaching their locker rooms. Through and before early August, 104 MLB positive tests were made public — and that is baseball, a sport that is not particularly reliant on physical contact. Not to mention baseball rosters have 26 spots, a drastic difference from the NFL which holds 53 players. Considering the troubles baseball has had, football seems likely to experience an even greater uprise of positive cases based on the principles of the sport alone.
Yes, we all want to see professional football. But at what cost?
There is a sense of ignorance from the league. There is a sense of fear from the public. And as of now, they are battling each other with a general hope between them that everyone remains safe. Nevertheless, the NFL is going to attempt to play this thing out. Will everything come to fruition? For fans of football, expect the worst.