The stunning videos from the “OL Masterminds Summit” of men with large BMIs not practicing social distancing, not wearing masks, and ultimately clustered together for a hot-wing eating contest is both bad news for football in 2020, and good news for football in 2020.
It’s bad news for football because it shows that grown men who should know better about the realities of the coronavirus currently can’t be trusted to do what needs to be done to avoid catching COVID-19. It’s good news for football because it shows that the number of players who ultimately opt out of the 2020 season will be minimal.
“If they will risk it for eating chicken wings,” observed one league source, “why not risk it for $15 million a year? . . . Right or wrong, most of the NFL players don’t care about coronavirus. Watch what they do, not say.”
Still, players will catch it. And players will end up missing two or three weeks of action when they test positive, assuming they don’t develop serious illness. They also will put others at risk of catching it from them.
But why should their mindset be any different from millions of Americans who don’t care about catching it and spreading it? Empowered and enabled by public voices for which there will be a special place in hell, people still routinely spew the statistics about all of the other risks of death that are more significant than dying from COVID-19, without ever acknowledging the simple reality that, when someone gets hit by a bus or struck by lightning or trampled by a stampede of wildebeests, they don’t take anyone else with them.
The other problem this mindset creates for players generally is that it sends a message to the NFL, on the eve of the final stages of the effort to work out the rules and regulations for the 2020 season, that the NFL can dig in its heels on any of the lingering issues, confident that despite any huffing and puffing at the bargaining table, men who will risk their health at a COVID chicken wing party won’t walk away from their base salaries over fears that they’ll catch it playing football.
All of this means that, as long as the NFL has a satisfactory plan for quickly replenishing rosters in the event of an outbreak on a given team, football will be able to proceed, at least until a coach or player dies from it.
Think about that for a second. In March, all it took was one positive case, developed Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, to shut down the NBA, the NHL, and MLB. Come September, it may take a player or coach to be killed by COVID-19 to derail pro football.
Even then, there’s no guarantee that football would stand down. Nearly 19 years ago, Korey Stringer died during training camp of heat stroke, and football at large barely missed a beat.
The difference remains that heat stroke isn’t contagious. Coronavirus is. That fundamental truth, as time continues to pass, seems to be fading away — even as proof of this fact continues to unfolds each and every day, by the tens of thousands.