The NFL season is in serious jeopardy and a COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t have to be present within its personal circles for things to be doomed before they even get started.
As Odell Beckham Jr. sat around a table with Todd Gurley, Victor Cruz, and Cam Newton — part of a special OBJ aired on his YouTube channel, titled The Bigger Picture — Beckham made it clear he is not OK with traveling back and forth to team facilities, potentially exposing himself and his family to COVID-19.
“I’ve relaxed with the idea, I might not be playing. There might not be a season. There are other issues at hand that we have to handle first,” Beckham said, with Gurley nodding in agreement. Both players argued there is a need for a health protocol.
Protocol discussions haven’t started yet between the league and NFLPA, according to players’ union President J.C. Tretter.
Cruz, who won a Super Bowl with the Giants and has since retired, went on to express concerns over the contact nature of football — and the fact that sweat and other bodily fluids are exchanged every time the ball is snapped.
“It’s the invisible bogeyman, this coronavirus,” Beckham said. “It’s in our face, yet they’re still trying to make football happen. With everything that is going on, what does that say about our country that this is that important, this needs to start up? When there is no plan for us — when there is nothing.”
In the roundtable discussion the three NFL stars discussed COVID, their various experiences as Black men in this country, and what they hope will come of this upcoming season.
Cam Newton gave a blunt account of the slight he felt during this offseason and the introspection it led to. When other quarterbacks would land opportunities, Newton said he found himself asking about their age, injury history, and how they’ve played the last few years relative to his own performance. The only conclusion he came to was that he was being shafted, an all too common feeling that takes over Black folks awaiting a new job opportunity.
Newton acknowledged that in the midst of a whirling injury cycle the last two years, his game film probably hasn’t been his best. But in comparison to other quarterbacks who signed heftier contracts, he felt he was without question a better option for those teams — and many agree with that assessment.
“That’s the disrespect I felt,” said Newton, who signed with the New England Patriots on a one-year deal with a base salary of just $1.05M. “I feel vindicated to some degree but I’m aiming at ‘next’ all year because a part of me is left because I gave an organization everything. What I gave I don’t think other people were willing to give and it was times I knew I wasn’t supposed to be playing, but I can’t give up on [my teammates].”
The group also discussed racism, specifically through the lens of the NFL. Cruz brought up the fact that Black coaches are rarely in the pipeline for a top position, i.e. offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator positions. He brought up a time when he was in his third year in the league and he asked his receivers coach, “Why are all the running back coaches Black?”
“You know why,” the coach told Cruz.
Running back coaches arguably are the lowest position coach on the totem pole, which explains why they are last in line for Coordinator positions. The infrastructure that exists among the coaching ranks in the NFL has to be completely overhauled if the league is committed to more reflective demographic representation at head coach and coordinator positions.
There are only four minority head coaches in the NFL. Three are Black.
“My biggest problem in America right now is inequality,” Newton said about Black folks not getting a fair shake at job opportunities within or outside of the NFL. “If you are right for this job, you need to get this job. If you’re right for this position, you need to get that position. I don’t care what it is, you are owed that as a human.”