The NFL is still planning to have a season this year, bless their hearts. And for all of the diehard gridiron fans out there, this is a hopeful sign that autumn won’t be quite as craptastic as the spring and summer turned out to be. Of course, coming to any sort of agreement on how things will operate and what precautions will be taken to mitigate the threat of the novel coronavirus was a complicated process. Rules needed to be imposed in terms of how players, staff and fans could safely participate. But last week, at last, the league and the NFL Players’ Association were able to finalize the details.
Much of the negotiations covered the usual checklist items that they have to deal with every season. The sticking points came with the questions about pandemic safety measures. Those have apparently been worked out however and the rules for player behavior and activities outside of the stadium and practice facilities include many restrictions on their social behavior. There is a long list of no-nos for the players, detailing certain “high-risk” activities which can result in fines and/or suspensions. They won’t be allowed to go to indoor night clubs or bars and house parties. Makes sense, right? But as CBS Boston points out, there’s another banned activity that will probably raise a lot of questions. (Emphasis in original)
There is, however, one rather interesting inclusion on the list of banned activity — one that might raise an eyebrow or two to anybody paying close attention. Here’s the fifth item on the list:
“Attending a professional sporting event (other than applicable NFL games or events) unless the player is seated in a separated seating section, such as a suite or owner’s box, is wearing PPE, and there are no more than 10 people in that separate seating section.”
The NFL … is banning players … from attending … professional sporting events … because … the NFL … believes … that attending sporting events … can exacerbate the spread … of the novel coronavirus.
Yes, it seems that if any NFL players attend a professional sporting event for a different sport, that’s exceedingly dangerous. They can only do it if they basically have their own skybox with a medical team standing by. But NFL games? Those are fine and dandy.
Perhaps they think that the NFL games will be safer because they aren’t going to allow fans in the stadium? No dice. At least not for most of them. Only the Jets and the Giants will be playing games in empty stadiums with no fans. The rest are scrambling to install social distancing protocols so they can still sell as many tickets as possible. In Seattle, there idea of social distancing may include a provision to keep “every other seat” empty.
Have you ever been to a game in one of these stadiums? The seats are not six feet apart. Seattle’s stadium, if you leave every second seat empty, will still hold 36,000 people. Other stadiums have similar capacities. Don’t you just feel safer already?
To say there’s more than a bit of hypocrisy in these rules is an understatement. Banning your players from going to baseball or basketball games but allowing them to cram into football stadiums is as offensive as it is nonsensical in terms of health concerns. The stadiums are either safe or they aren’t. And selling that many seats is just an invitation to have the entire season scrapped if one of the stadiums produces a massive outbreak of COVID-19.
I really want the season to happen. I honestly do. And I say that even knowing that the Jets just dumped a couple of their best players. Again. And knowing that our owner, Woody Johnson, has managed to get himself in trouble while working as the Ambassador to Great Britain. Again. But I digress…
There’s an easier way. Screen all the players regularly before each game and practice. Monitor their recreational activities to avoid both sickness and embarrassing headlines. Get rid of the blackout rules for local television coverage for one season. Broadcast all the games and don’t have fans in the stands. You can afford it for one season and if you pull this off you’ll earn back much of the trust you’ve lost among the fans.
Oh, and just do away with the national anthem if you’re going to have everyone kneeling before an empty house anyway. Bring back Hank Williams Jr.’s classic “are you ready for some football” song and play it on the big screen. If you like all of these ideas, I’m available to take over the position of NFL Commissioner on a moment’s notice and I’ll do it for only 85% of the salary Goodell is charging you. (With a five year, pay or play guarantee, of course.)