They said that football is America’s favorite pastime, and based on the tv ratings, it certainly has been for some time now. NFL games make up the vast majority of the most-watched programs every year, year after year. Which is all the more reason that people are paying such close attention to where the league currently is relative to where it needs to be to resume play on time.
The NFL caught a break, so to speak, at least relative to the other major professional sports leagues, since the coronavirus pandemic hit during their offseason. They will also have the advantage of watching the other sports leagues attempt to resume play before they do, so they will be able to learn from their successes and failures.
The league can take every precaution it wants, but as we have seen with the other leagues, it’s also about the people who play the game, and they will have to strike a deal with the NFLPA to come to an agreement that everybody is comfortable with, regarding the safety standards that must be in place.
Cameron Heyward is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ NFLPA player representative since Ramon Foster retired earlier this year. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic asked him about how he felt about the league’s response and communication about return to practice for players. “There is room for growth”, he admitted.
Nothing has been decided. We are still taking in information. We have some time. I don’t think we will be getting together until training camp. The cutoff date is June 26 for anything like a real OTA or minicamp. I don’t think that’s going to happen. They’re going to have to be adjusted, and there are a lot of moving parts that go along with that, whether it is travel or people coming in and out. We share our facility with Pitt, so I don’t even know if we will be allowed to be there because I think that’s considered one business. We are going to have to find a way to be smart about this and smart for our players. I don’t want anybody to get this virus. If we want to play football this bad, guys are going to have to make sacrifices to accomplish it.
The last line may be the key. There is not going to be a vaccine for Covid-19 by August. Or in September. Maybe not even in time for the Super Bowl. So if players want to play, they have to be willing to do so knowing that if they are playing against anybody who is positive—even if the don’t know it, of course—they could potentially contract it.
As we have already seen, there have been a number of college athletes to have tested positive for the coronavirus as they begin to return to their facilities. Chances are this was the first time they had been tested. The league will have to do daily tests to get this thing off the ground, and that also means there has to be enough ‘spare’ tests available for 32 teams for several months.