As the NFL prepares to rise from the ashes and play football in the middle of an uncontained pandemic, there’s an important question that needs to be asked:
After seeing how the NFL has treated its players, why should it be trusted with the health of larger populations?
The United States as a whole hasn’t done nearly enough to safely return to professional sports. Now a league that’s shown callous disregard for its players for decades is going to successfully navigate the coronavirus?
The NFL fumbled its way through concussion lawsuits, been stingy with benefits for retired players and been tough on marijuana use despite pumping players full of addictive painkillers. For the NFL, the most important thing is making money — no matter how many players’ bodies pile up on the way to the mountaintop of eternal wealth.
As bad as that is, though, at least concussions and shredded ligaments aren’t contagious. Now the virus means far more lives are at risk for the NFL’s pursuit of its bottom line. The league isn’t exactly reassuring its devoted fans that it cares about their lives, either.
The NFL pushed for teams to have two fan events during training camp. Fan events. At practice. In the middle of a pandemic. This serves no purpose besides squeezing every penny that they can out of a situation that will certainly affect league revenue this year.
Players have spoken out about the challenges of returning to football right now, including New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who correctly stated that football is not an essential business. The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to social distancing policies for training camp, but it’s a bit difficult to social distance while tackling and blocking people at full speed for hours at a time.
The NFL is going to be in charge of the impossible task of containing a contagious disease while playing a sport that is rooted in the violence of repeated physical contact. Nothing that this league has produced this year or any other year should inspire confidence in the general public that NFL players won’t become ATMs for the coronavirus in the fall; no other American league’s restart has provided a blueprint for playing safely.
Getting through the offseason was the easy part! As everyone saw, free agency, the draft and playbook installation can be done virtually and safely. Now, the hard issues are peeking their head around the corner.
The sheer size and popularity of the league make it an important player in public health. It’s a role the NFL hasn’t earned, and one that Americans should be wary of.
The United States’ battle against coronavirus is going more poorly than ever, with more than 50,000 new cases a day for the past week. NFL players are going to get sick and infect their teammates, coaches, and families. Each of those cases will have been preventable, and directly caused by the NFL’s profit-chasing.
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