I know how you feel. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to watch football and we’ve all been stuck inside for what feels like years now. The Super Bowl happened on February 2. Just 27 days later, the first COVID related death in America happened in Washington. Then sports leagues began to shut down in March and we’ve been craving their return since. I swear when “The Last Dance” ended, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself.
Now here we are six months later and we’re starting to get sports back, albeit in a way that just feels weird. Baseball games are played in empty stadiums with artificial crowd noise pumped in. Basketball is being played in a bubble at Disney World inside what's essentially a giant convention hall. Hockey is also playing in a bubble in Canada. It’s not what we’re used to, but hey, it’s sports.
The NFL just opened up their training camp last week, and they’re continuing to forge ahead with their plans to have an NFL season in 2020. Unfortunately, things aren’t off to a great start. The players haven’t even really taken the field yet and there are currently 67 players on the NFL’s COVID-19 list. We also learned last week that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has tested positive for the virus. Sean Payton tested positive as well back in March. On top of the COVID-19 list, several players are opting out of playing during the 2020 season and with Thursday’s deadline, there might be a few extra who squeak in under the wire.
COVID-19 is not going away. Quite the contrary. On Sunday 604 new cases were found in Michigan alone, which puts them currently up to 83,386 cases altogether as of Monday afternoon. America has 5,046,506 reported positive tests per the CDC.
I say all that to ask this question: Is football even worth it anymore? I know the immediate answer is probably going to be a resounding yes from many of you. Believe me, I’m right there on the edge. I want football back pretty bad. I actually sort of need football back, like many writers whose livelihood depends on it do.
But right now football isn’t making me happy like it usually does. I love this time of year. Normally, I’d be heading down to camp and sweating profusely on a giant metal tower that radiates heat upwards while Matt Prater kicks field goals directly at me. I live for that. But right now—and I only speak for myself—I feel like what I imagine a cheating spouse would feel like. I feel guilty.
Here are a bunch of guys that are risking their health and safety to entertain us. Yes, they make millions of dollars, and, of course, it’s their choice. But I can’t help but look at Matthew Stafford right now and think about what I’m cheering for the return of. Stafford tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday after testing negative on two prior tests. This isn’t like a football injury. My first thoughts weren't about Stafford healing up after some rehab or taking a couple games off. My first thoughts are about his wife Kelly who within the last 16 months had a brain tumor removed and the family’s newborn infant, brought into this world just over a month ago.
I think about what that means for their safety, but also think about what this moment is like for Stafford. Obviously I can only speculate and in no way know what’s happening in Stafford home, but if I had a newborn and I just tested positive for COVID-19, I would be scared to be around that child or any of my children. That’s heartbreaking.
Stafford isn’t alone, either. As I mentioned above there are currently 67 players on the COVID-19 list right now. That’s just today. The season ends in December for most teams. The possibility that more players could get the virus between now and then is entirely possible.
That’s a scary proposition. The fact is not every person takes to the virus well. The idea that just because you’re in good shape means you won’t be affected by the virus isn’t necessarily true. But while we’re on that, keep in mind that not every player is in good shape. Think about some of these lineman that are upwards of 300 pounds. Studies are showing that obesity can lead to severe COVID-19. Especially in younger patients.
And it’s not just about the players. Think of some of these coaches. These people are the physical specimens that players are and some are in their 60s. We could be talking about some high-risk people here, and that’s not even counting the janitors, equipment managers, and scores of other employees in the buildings.
Right now the plan that the NFL has to have a season just isn’t going to work. Major League Baseball is clear proof of that. The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals are two teams that have been struck with positive tests and they were traveling from state to state. Who knows how responsible they may have been for spreading it further.
Now if the NFL wants to adopt what the NBA and NHL are doing by playing in a bubble, then they could pull of a safer, but not totally safe, option to have a season. The question is whether that is even possible for a league like the NFL. Teams are much larger than both hockey and basketball teams, and it’s likely far too late to try and implement something like that. But it’s something worth looking into if the NFL truly wants to go forward with the season.
I know you want football back. I do, too. But is it worth the possibility that someone might die for us to get it? I just don’t think it is. We can go a year without it. It will suck. It will suck a lot, but wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the game without worrying that players are risking the safety of their families and themselves? Wouldn’t it just be nice to wait until you can hear the roar of the crowd, too? Is football really worth it right now?