NBC analyst Rodney Harrison expressed concern on Tuesday regarding the ability of the NFL to play a season in a pandemic. CBS analyst Bill Cowher has similar misgivings.
“I mean, there’s so much anxiety and worry about what’s next, to do the right thing because it varies from state to state,” Cowher told Ed Bouchette of TheAthletic.com. “Testing will be everything, making sure the fans feel comfortable and safe; more importantly, the players. Even if it doesn’t involve fans, maybe what we can do is be able to still see it on TV. But testing will come down to being everything as it comes to playing a season this year.”
Cowher also told Bouchette that Cowher and his wife had COVID-19 earlier this year, following a trip to Honolulu and a March 12 return flight through the Newark airport. Symptomatic but not diagnosed with it at the time, they tested positive for the antibodies in April.
Nearly four months later, the nationwide situation doesn’t seem much better. So can the NFL pull off the 2020 season?
“I don’t know,” Cowher told Bouchette. “No. 1, the players have to feel comfortable with whatever they come up with from a testing standpoint, from a protocol standpoint. I totally understand the reluctance. Even though they say young people aren’t getting it, you also have people who have asthma, people who have underlying conditions in their families — they’re going back to their homes with parents who may now be elderly. It’s not like you can isolate yourself from everybody, particularly during a season that’s five months long. . . . I still think we have a long way to go. It’s going to come down to the league and the NFLPA feeling comfortable moving forward, and even within that, if they come up with a set of guidelines, and now a player who doesn’t feel comfortable, he may not want to be part of it. It affects people differently not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint. . . . I think we have to respect that.”
Rodney addressed the mental standpoint on Tuesday. At a time when players should have laser focus on football, they’ll be thinking about whether the guy next to them in the locker room or across from them on the field have the virus. Given the extent to which coaches pride themselves on avoiding “distractions,” this is the ultimate distraction.
“Again, if somebody tests positive, who’s to say another player says, ‘I don’t want to go out there and play because, you know what, I don’t want to subject myself to it,'” Cowher told Bouchette. “What do you say to that player, that you have to go out there and play?”
That’s another issue for which the league will need to plan, not make it up as they go. Players shouldn’t be expected to make a final and binding opt-in-or-opt-out decision before training camp begins. Instead, they should have the ability to yell “stop the ride” whenever they decide that they’re no longer comfortable with the risks to themselves, or to their families.