While the Baltimore Ravens continue to decline to identify the individual of the strength and conditioning coach whom they disciplined for violations of the Covid-19 protocols, it was reportedly five-year staffer Steve Saunders, who head their strength and conditioning department, and further reports indicate that the team has suspended him.
According to the allegations, Saunders reported to work while experiencing Covid-19 symptoms and declined to report them, as is required by the protocols, to the team’s Infection Control Officer. He also is said to have not been wearing masks regularly, and further, he was not consistently wearing his tracking bracelet, which complicated contact tracing procedures.
Possibly due almost solely to his willful disregard for the health and safety of others, more than a dozen players, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, and centers Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari, all tested positive for the coronavirus. A large number of coaches and staffers have also tested positive.
What will the league do about this? This is what I have been hearing for days now. The answer is, it depends. The NFL may not have even begun to investigate the matter in detail. The findings of that investigation, however, will determine whether or not they choose to discipline the Ravens beyond the actions that they have already taken, and to what level of severity.
A key piece of this investigation will involve the league reviewing surveillance footage of the team’s facilities. As part of the protocols:
Clubs must maintain video of facility surveillance cameras for a period of at least 30 days. NFL Security will coordinate regular collection and review of footage to ensure compliance with these Protocols, specifically use of masks and PPE. Clubs are reminded that failure to enforce strict compliance with the mask/PPE requirements will subject the Club to discipline under the Protocol by the league. Players are reminded that if they are identified as failing to comply with the mask/PPE requirements, they will be subject to discipline under the Protocols.
Review of surveillance footage was an integral part of the league’s disciplining of the Tennessee Titans, whom they fined $350,000 as an organization, for protocol violations that resulted in their game against the Steelers being postponed. It was also central to the Raiders’ second discipline, which resulted in a $500,000 fine, $150,000 more for head coach Jon Gruden, and the loss of a sixth-round draft pick.
In the case of the former, the league found that the Titans did not consistently comply with requirements on wearing masks, and for failure to clearly communicate restrictions against workouts outside of the facility when they were shut down.
The Raiders’ case was more troubling, as there were found frequent violations of both mask- and contract tracing bracelet-wearing requirements, among more well-known instances. Importantly, Las Vegas ignored several specific warnings of protocol violations.
If the league finds behavior similar to this, then maybe the Ravens lose a draft pick. As it is, I find it hard to imagine that the behavior alone of Saunders could allow them to escape this without some level of league discipline, even if it is limited to a substantial fine, as in the Titans case.
While I wrote yesterday that game forfeiture, based on what we currently know, would be overkill, I never advocated for the idea that the organization wasn’t culpable at all for the outbreak that happened under their watch, or that they don’t deserve any kind of punishment.
What level of punishment is deserved, however, will be determined not by angry fans, but by what the evidence uncovered during an extensive investigation finds. The league already knows whether or not it had been sending the team warnings, but we don’t know whether or not that is the case, and that is a pretty important detail, because if they ignored warnings, that opens the door wide open for asset forfeiture to come into play.