Ideally, sports were supposed to be the escape from the hell that is known as 2020. But like every other part of life, they aren’t immune for the COVID pandemic. The NHL and NBA were able to pile into bubbles to finish out their paused season. Credit to those leagues. – things went off nearly without a hitch. The MLB was messier, especially in the early going and things ended on a sour note when a COVID positive Justin Turner celebrated with teammates minutes after winning the World Series. But they were able to get out of the season with minimal disruption all things considered.
The NFL doesn’t appear to be as fortunate. They’re attempting to finish out a regular season as COVID cases spike all around the country. Every part of the country is considered a hot spot. And football is going through its toughest week yet with no end in sight.
It’s beginning to beg the question. How much longer can the NFL push ahead?
And I get it. The league’s goal is to play the season no matter what. They’ll explore every avenue, turn over every rock, put teams in the most unimaginable of situations to get out on the field. The 49ers missing half their roster? Play the game. Baltimore in the same spot? Play the game (postpone it twice first, though). Denver about to start John Elway? Play the game.
But there’s gotta be a breaking point. This week feels like it.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter summed up everything that happened Saturday in 280 characters.
To sum up this Saturday:
Ravens' Reserve/COVID list grew to 18 players.
Lions did a housecleaning.
The 49ers have no place to play.
And the Broncos have no quarterbacks.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 28, 2020
Steelers’ fans know what’s happening in their (and Baltimore’s) backyard well. Assuming the game gets played, the Ravens will be without their starting RB, likely their top two RBs, and a solid chunk of their offensive and defensive lines. Pittsburgh’s missing their own pieces, too.
Denver will go into today’s game without a true QB. Jeff Driskel tested positive for COVID and the other three on the roster – Drew Lock, Blake Bortles, and Brett Rypien – were all deemed to be close contact and forced to quarantine. The Broncos are expected to go with the unholy combination of WR Kendell Hinton, a QB at Wake Forest, and RB Royce Freeman against the Saints.
Meanwhile, the 49ers won’t be able to play in Santa Clara after new COVID restrictions forbids any sports to take place for the next three weeks. They’ll likely find a nearby home. That is, assuming the same restrictions don’t expand to the rest of the state.
And the Lions? Ok, them firing everyone is actually pretty normal. Ignore that part.
This may be football’s new normal. But it doesn’t feel sustainable.
These games feel like a farce when half of one roster doesn’t play. When the other side doesn’t have a QB. How much longer can the NFL pretend like everything is fine?
Does that mean cancelling the season? No. That’s still a long ways away. But pausing it? Maybe. The landscape of COVID cases and situations like what the NFL’s dealing with don’t look like they’re going to get any better. Trudging through, head down, eyes closed, for the next three months seems unwise and unsafe. The league booked hotels through the month of February for the Super Bowl so at one point, they clearly anticipated a world where football got pushed back. Take a week or two off for the entire league, reset, and start back up. It’s more complicated than that, I understand, but there has to be a better plan out there. Assigning a league official to each time to ensure they’re complying with rules is one place to start.
Whether it’s better enforced COVID restrictions, creating some sort of semi-bubble to ride the rest of the year out, or something else, the league has to take a hard look in the mirror. This isn’t going well. And without a change in direction, it’s only going to get worse.