It’s a day we all suspected, if not outright knew, would come.
The MLB season has been exposed as the farce it always was, which is probably a little glib considering how dangerous it actually is. If you don’t believe that it is, ask Eduardo Rodriguez. It was never going to work, and should the MLB keep pressing ahead (which it almost certainly will) we’ll know just how outsized and grotesque the pursuit of obscene profits and income has become (that’s probably a country-wide problem). That’s all this was ever about, of course.
So, NFL, are you paying attention? Are you seeing this? We know you are, but we also know just how much the NFL values its players’ health vs. the profits they drive. I’m not going to sit on a hot stove waiting for Jerry Jones to have an attack of consciousness.
Just a reminder, that NFL training camps will get in full swing this week. Rookies and quarterbacks have already reported (and 12 rookies have already tested positive). The rest of the rosters will report this week. There’s the slate of health protocols and testing you’ve seen from every other sport. You could probably list them from memory, but it’s every day testing until there’s every other day testing should a threshold of less than 5 percent be kept. Isolation after a positive test until there’s a number of negative tests. Contact tracing, which would seem easy enough to just say that every teammate is in contact, something MLB couldn’t figure out. Various processes of how players enter and where they can go and how locker rooms will be expanded and separated and such.
Heard it all before.
I know what the NFL’s and their followers’ arguments will be. They have six weeks, at least, of keeping teams in their home cities to see how things develop, whereas baseball had a crash-course three before starting this weekend. They won’t even be practicing football really for the first three weeks, with that time being used as a strength-and-conditioning time thanks to no minicamps. Teams only play once a week instead of every day, perhaps lessening the risk of exposure. Anyone needing isolation could conceivably miss only one game, instead of over 20 percent of the season as they would in baseball. We’ll come back to this if Patrick Mahomes has to be isolated during the season and see how that goes over.
Here’s the thing though. They’re still playing football.
At some point, in even these training camps, they’ll be in pads and crashing into each other and running routes past each other and trying to cover each other, even if they’re not bringing each other to the ground. And while the NFL was hoping that being the last one into this petri dish of the major sports would provide enough time for the threat and virus to fade, our country made sure that wasn’t possible. So an additional three weeks isn’t going to be any better. The virus will still be calling the shots in three weeks, when practices are supposed to begin.
And there is no test that tells you the instant you got it and the instant you’re contagious. It takes three days, or five, or seven, to go from contracting the disease to testing positive. This is the crux of it, the one that’s beating MLB over the head right now with a wooden board while they insist it’s just drizzling. It’s this window where it spreads.
Again, the NFL will claim that it can isolate and contact-trace and even if a large swath of a team tests positive, they’re still in camp. They won’t be facing opponents yet. With six weeks, they can get everyone on every team to test negative by the time they want to play games.
MLB thought that, too. Do an additional three weeks really matter? Would delaying the season to October really matter, given the way things are going?
It can’t be done, not safely. And the NFL is almost certainly too large to try a “bubble,” even though how much a “bubble” has worked is very debatable. And it’s the NFL’s size that makes it even less possible. 80 players or more and outsized staffs in 32 different spots around the country with wildly varying levels of either disease or controls in place. Does the NFL really think it can keep that many thousands of people on message? It only takes one or two, as MLB is learning. And the NBA, perhaps with the least amount of personnel and in a bubble is learning it can’t even keep everyone on point even in a bubble.
But this is the NFL, and NFL exceptionalism is probably the sharp-end of American exceptionalism. As we said, not having the answers here isn’t reason to stop but to press forward. We know how this will go.
Are you ready for some football?