Yay! NFL training camp has finally arrived!
Or has it?
That’s a real question right about now, less than 24 hours before rookies have been assigned to report. According to league sources, an email was sent out on Saturday, essentially stating that everything is a go as planned.
“At [Friday’s] league meeting, the membership was advised that under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the reporting dates for training camp this year are as follows.
Rookies – July 21
Quarterbacks and injured players – July 23
All other players – July 28,” said the email sent out to all 32 teams by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent.
But questions loom – from the players – and there are more than a few.
Locally, Broncos kicker and player rep, Brandon McManus tweeted concerns. As did Russell Wilson. As did J.J. Watt, Patrick Mahomes and Tyrann Matthieu. And by the time you read this, it’s safe to assume that an even bigger number of NFL players have weighed in. In fact, there’s a hashtag in place that accompanies the questions and concerns of the players – #WeWantToPlay – which would indicate that NFL players aren’t involved in a protest or walkout, and they do want to play, it’s just that they’re seeking answers.
Read all of their comments if you’d like, but the common theme is this: The NFL has no plan.
That’s probably not fair, as a number of measures have been discussed if not already put into place. It’s pointless to itemize those here, however, as the bigger issue is the number of plans and considerations that are not in place – at least according to the players who’ve voluntarily chimed in. Among the biggest issues are player-family safety, testing frequency and the “what ifs” associated with a player who tests positive.
Hey NFL, welcome to 2020. Welcome to the types of decisions and considerations that practically everyone else has been dealing with since March.
Up until this point, the NFL has remained remarkably unphased by all that’s taken place in what has to be one of the most turbulent years in the league’s century of existence. Wisely, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has avoided the temptation (and hasn’t had the need) to cancel or postpone (many) important official dates. The NFL made changes to its draft, which went off responsibly and flawlessly and became one of the most highly viewed “sporting events” since all of this mess began, and it cancelled all things Canton (not ideal, not earthshattering either). But making changes to the actual schedule has really never come into focus; Goodell certainly made no kneejerk reactions early on regarding his league. While the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS were instantly confronted with the problems associated with COVID-19, the normal timing of the NFL’s schedule luckily, and perhaps conveniently, made playing football “as planned” feel like something that only existed in the distant future.
Well, the future has arrived.
This week should reveal a lot – about the NFL’s leadership, about its players, and – really – about just how big and how powerful football is in America.
Newsflash: It’s big. Really big. And it’s powerful. Really powerful.
But here’s where the shit’s about to hit the fan. If you’re of the belief – as many Americans, CNN and our very own governor are – that wearing a mask and standing six feet apart is the only way to avoid “more damage to our economy and loss of life” then the NFL has a big problem.
If, as we’ve been told, masks and distancing and handwashing are “safe,” then it stands to reason that the game of football is not, and cannot be, safe. If it’s unsafe to walk into a public space without a mask on, if it’s unsafe to trade jerseys following 48-minutes of hand-to-hand combat, then how in the wide-wide-world-of-sports can touching, breathing on, bleeding on and sweating on one another for four hours in the summer sun be safe?
Sorry to state the obvious.
Forget about what you believe though. Does Roger Goodell think that way? Jerry Jones? ESPN?
Players want to play. They do. If nothing else, there’s no paycheck like one that comes from professional sports. So the rubber will meet the road there, too – it always does when money is concerned. Billionaire owners aren’t about to go quietly into the night because of a few tweets, recommendations from “their own health experts” or states that can’t agree how to handle the virus. Rest assured, they’re not going to toss in the towel anytime soon. And the one hammer they have, is the almighty paycheck. Russell Wilson may have enough money in the bank to take a harder stance, but a big percentage of the league does not. Nobody wants to get sick, but nobody wants to go broke while waiting around on agreeable protocol, either.
Besides, you want football. You do. You might have been able to stomach some time off without basketball, hockey or baseball, but football? If there’s no football, the good ol’ U-S-of-A is about to come unglued. You’re quick to call out the guy who ventures into Costco without a mask, eager to righteously reply to your neighbor who spouts off on Facebook about his “right” not to wear one. But will you hold the NFL to the same standard? If you do, there’s no conceivable way football can be played safely.
For the first time since the NBA put a halt to the Jazz-Thunder matchup, the NFL is having to really and truly deal with the pandemic.
Stand back, shit’s about to hit the fan.