Today is Wednesday. Rookies from two teams are, in theory, eligible to begin reporting to training camp on Saturday. However, teams have note yet been given clearance—for anything yet. There are many outstanding issues left to be resolved between the NFL and the NFLPA as it concerns how they will handle the unique situation that is the coronavirus.
One of the NFLPA’s most significant concerns appears to be how Covid-19 will be classified. The union insists that it be classified as a football injury, rather than a non-football issue, which would mean that teams could place them on the Non-Football Illness list, and then justifiably not pay them.
This seems to me a ground on which the NFL should clearly give way. They are asking players to expose themselves to a virus to play a game, which is not a part of their contracts. If they end up getting sick over the course of their attempt to play that game, they should be paid the same way that they would had they suffered a physical injury.
“Once the player passes the physical and tests negative (for COVID-19) if he should thereafter test positive our view is it should be treated as a football injury”, said Tom DePaso, general counsel for the players union. “Any player” who contracts the virus under those circumstances, he added, “should be treated like any player who sustained a football-related injury”.
Perhaps there is some precedent. Back in 2017, the league reached a settlement with former kicker Lawrence Tynes, who in 2013 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers contracted a MRSA infection at the team facilities. He sought damages of $20 million, arguing that it was a product of unsanitary working conditions. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Tynes was one of three players infected, and one of two to reach a settlement, the other being guard Carl Nicks. The Cleveland Browns in the 2000s also settled with two players, Joe Jurevicious and LeCharles Bentley (who later became a trainer offensive linemen work with in the offseason), both of whom retired after contracting MRSA.
Does the NFL really want to risk going to court over pay for players contracting Covid-19, which they have all but admitted is an inevitability? This seems unlikely. The league knows the risks it is asking players to take by playing amid a pandemic. Even young, healthy people can potentially suffer severe health consequences and die, even if it is less common.