The NFL is beginning training camps around the country as it looks to start its season on time and in all 32 home markets in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to see tens of thousands of cases per day in the United States.
The league has all but admitted that they accept and understand that there will be positive tests from players, coaches, and staffers, but they seem to believe they can somehow manage to avoid the outbreaks that have already caused major disruption to the MLB season a week in. Like in all of the other major sports, players have the option to play or not, with the only penalty being losing their salary for the season, and some teams, like the Patriots, have been impacted by opt outs more than others.
Odell Beckham Jr. of the Cleveland Browns isn’t planning on opting out of the season, but he also recognizes the pitfalls of the NFL’s plan and can very much see a scenario in which the league has to shut down the season. As Beckham Jr. told Lane Florsheim of WSJ Magazine recently, it’s hard for him to understand how the league can safely pull this off and he’s prepared for it to be called off eventually.
“Obviously with everything that’s going on, it doesn’t make sense why we’re trying to do this,” Beckham said. “I can understand basketball was already in the playoffs. Five-on-five basketball in an arena is going to be more intense than regular-season games. Hooping is different than playing an eleven-on-eleven contact sport where there’s 80 people in a locker room. We’re not ready for football season. So why are we trying to push forward? It’s obviously for their money. And that bothers me because there’s always been this—and I hate saying it like that—but the owners’ [attitude is], ‘Oh we own you guys,’ and just kind of that unfairness going on that they don’t see us as human. I just feel like the season shouldn’t happen and I’m prepared for it to not happen and I wouldn’t mind not having it.”
The issue the NFL faces is that there’s not really a good way to bring football back without risking significant spread within the locker room. A bubble for 32 teams with 80-man rosters plus massive coaching and training staffs, not to mention broadcast people and other necessary staffers, would have to be able to hold and regularly test upwards of 5,000 people — which would be a logistical nightmare if not an impossibility. But as we’ve seen with baseball, attempts at a sporting season in a team sport outside of a bubble is riddled with danger of an outbreak among teams that inevitably causes delays in the schedule — which in a 16-game season and a sport where double-headers are impossible, is hard to deal with.
Still, Beckham seems ready to see through the NFL’s attempt at a restart, and according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, he’s been impressed with the Browns policies in their facility and will not be opting out, noting the interview was two weeks ago.
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 3, 2020
While teams may be doing their best in their facilities to limit the spread and keep players safe, the issue is simply that football is a sport where, if someone has it, it will easily spread given the contact people have on the field. As such, the problem arises with being able to keep players from getting it while at home, where unless they are completely limiting their movement from facility to home — and that of their families — there will be risk of exposure.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson is currently at home quarantining after testing positive for the virus over the weekend, which illustrated the precarious position the NFL season is in. They’ll try to press forward, and while Beckham may be changing his tune now from when he did this interview, his initial comments may be prescient.