A part of me doesn’t even want to write about the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on the NFL, because it seems so immaterial in the broad scheme of things. But then I remember how significant it is that it could bring the biggest sports league in the world to nearly a standstill.
It’s also important because football, and all sports, is something that many people turn to as a means of escaping from both their day to day lives and from the problems of the world at large. There is no clearer example than this that you can never entirely escape, unfortunately.
Teams are still doing business, but it’s being done in a different way. Everybody is working remotely, from their own homes, while they are in quarantine, either by mandate or by choice. They have built an infrastructure to allow themselves to function as normally as possible under the circumstances.
We got a dose of this reality with Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert speaking to Missi Matthews for the team’s website in what is admittedly not the greatest webcam ever made, as he talked about some of the practical matters of the changes.
“This is an unprecedented situation”, he said. “None of us can say that we’ve been through this before, because quite honestly, we haven’t. But I think consciously we’re trying to make sure that if we have the means to help somebody else, let’s make sure that we go ahead and do that, and I think collectively we’ll all be better off because of it”.
We’ve seen a number of players and teams giving money to various causes here and there. We’ve seen players, like the Edmunds brothers, handing out supplies in the streets to those in need, in protective gear, of course. But for the front office, there is still business to be done.
“We’ve been working and conducting draft meetings from our homes”, Colbert said. “The coaches, the scouts, everybody’s been working together and trying to stay ahead of the draft preparation. But obviously we’re doing it under the constraints of what our government has mandated us to do, and we’ve reminded everybody in our group that, first and foremost, we want to make sure that they’re safe”.
Pro Days and pre-draft visits have been eliminated or modified, stripping away key tools for teams to evaluate draft prospects, but everybody is being dealt the same hand, and the show must go on no matter the hardships.
“There’s no question, we value the Pro Days. To be able to get up and get close and interact with a player and watch him work out and meet his family and all those sorts of things, that part has been taken away from us”, Colbert lamented.
The Steelers are among the most active teams on the Pro Day circuit. But it’s out of their hands. “Again, we’re not alone in that endeavor. All the teams in the NFL are going through it the same way”, he pointed out. The abnormal is the new normal, and will be such for a while.