Are you ready for some football?
Unfortunately, that is not the question.
Is football ready?
And unless they are running a massive misinformation campaign, the answer is “not even close.” Even now, with training camp set to open on July 28, things are in flux. In fact, the NFL may still flux this up.
It has now been nearly a month since Baltimore coach John Harbaugh called the league guidelines for playing during the pandemic “impossible . . . humanly impossible.” And frankly it doesn’t seem like we’re much further along now.
Abrupt changes, like the recent decision to cut the pre-season to two games, tell you this is a process that is not settled. The Players Association is still negotiating their participation and submitted a proposal just before the July 4th holiday. A key point — NO pre-season games.
You can’t blame the players. They’re the ones being sent out there to bang into each other and huff and puff in each other’s faces. There will be some happy chat from the league about how players should maintain social distancing “whenever possible,” or something, but we all know that isn’t happening.
As Harbaugh said back in June, “I’m pretty sure the huddle is not going to be six-feet spaced.”
I thought ESPN’s Adam Schefter said something interesting the other day.
“When I speak to people on teams, they’re uneasy. They’re anxious. They’re concerned,” Schefter said. “When I speak to people who are near the top of the NFL food chain, they are convinced that there is going to be football.”
So the Suits, who will be wearing masks up in their suites, say to the Uniforms, on the sidelines, “OK Bobby, get out there and make us proud. And y’all stay safe.”
It is not a stretch to say football has more to worry about than any other sport. First, there is the obvious close contact with lots of other potential virus-carriers. There is no way to keep your distance and play football.
But also as Louisville Courier Journal columnist Tim Sullivan (an old pal) pointed out recently, football rosters are full of players who weigh well over 300 pounds. Which, Sullivan says, classifies them as obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is a huge red flag for Coronavirus. (And yes we know they are elite athletes. Check the news stories about the triathletes who caught COVID and died.)
I keep coming back to another player in another sport. The Giants’ Buster Posey is having some very understandable second thoughts about playing with the pandemic still uncontrolled. In talking about how odd the circumstances are with reporters, Posey said, “What are we doing?”
Apparently, we’re still working out the answer.
The fact is, months ago when we first considered playing NFL games around the first of September, we figured the virus would be winding down, and we’d be easing back into sports.
Well, we’re easing all right, but the reason is that we’re all worried — players, fans and the general public. As the start of baseball season looms, we’re seeing players opting not to play the 2020 restart.
NFL players have the same “opt out” agreement. If someone decides not to play there are supposed to be no hard feelings from the team. But there’d definitely be some pressure. It wouldn’t be an easy decision to take a year off.
As the clock clicks down to game time, you have to wonder how many players will decide to sit. Malcolm Jenkins, the defensive lineman and vice president of the NFLPA executive board, has talked about not playing until the “risk is eliminated.” Not contained, eliminated.
“Football is a non-essential business,” Jenkins said on June 24. “We don’t have to do it.”
But, will they?
With all the money at stake — probably. Hope it is worth it.
Over the years there have been people who have performed incredible ethical contortions to try to explain why calling a football team the “Redskins,” is not offensive.
Unfortunately, it is offensive, so they have been wasting their breath. And now, Washington owner Dan Snyder is getting hit with something more than thoughtful emails from season ticket-holders. Nike, FedEx, and PepsiCo have all reportedly threatened to drop sponsorship unless Snyder changes the team’s name.
Which is going to happen. The team is making all the corporate noises about conducting a “thorough review” and holding “ongoing discussions” but that’s all window dressing. “Redskins” is a racial slur. As former Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said on a Sunday talk show, would you prefer the Washington “lawn jockeys?”
I suppose, if I squint really hard and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I could listen to the argument that the Atlanta Braves or Kansas City Chiefs are not as ethnically offensive. But then their fans would start doing the Tomahawk Chop, and I’d lose all respect for them again.
But Redskins? It’s offensive. Let’s hope this is one of the last times we see it in print.