The past two days have included troubling images of high-profile NFL quarterbacks showing no regard for federal guidelines and state mandates to stay at home and to practice social distancing. On Wednesday, it was Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. On Thursday, it was Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
On Friday, it needs to be Commissioner Roger Goodell issuing a clear and strong statement requiring players to comply. And the statement include a video from Goodell, posted on the NFL’s social-media platforms and its websites and played on a periodic basis on the NFL’s TV network urging all team and league employees to do what is required in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Goodell has issued two statements since the world was turned upside down by the pandemic. The first was a CBA ratification victory lap on March 15. The second came four days later, with a two-paragraph acknowledgement of the news that Saints coach Sean Payton had tested positive for the virus.
The time has come for a statement from Goodell not simply urging players but ordering them to follow the laws of the states and communities where they reside and to adhere to federal guidelines regarding social distancing. It can be short, it can be simple, and it can be powerful.
For example: “Hi. This is Roger Goodell. We currently live in serious and uncertain times, which are creating very real hardships for millions of Americans. The National Football League and its teams are committed to sharing the obligation to do whatever is necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This includes all league and team employees staying at home where required and at all times staying more than six feet away from others. Now isn’t the time for football players to be on a football field, and we expect all NFL players to set an example regarding the proper and responsible methods for getting exercise and staying in shape, no matter what sport you play.”
The video message should be supplemented with a written warning to all players that violations of state and local stay at home orders will subject them to discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy.
Over the years, the NFL has punished players for behavior far less dangerous than activities that will tend to facilitate the spread a virus that attacks the populace like a game of Russian roulette. The stay at home orders have been imposed to slam the brakes on the spread of the virus, and the NFL and its players are not above these requirements.
Unfortunately, the images that have emerged in recent days suggest that some players believe they are. It’s time for the Commissioner to dispel everyone of that notion.