By Arnie Leshin
Just attending to the restart of professional sports in the United States is a concern, with all having to address the same needs.
While Major League Baseball makes its initial pitch to officially start play on Friday, the National Basketball Association officially gets under way on July 31, the National Hockey League has lined up exhibition games for July 28, 29, 30, and the National Football League has targeted July 28 for the beginning of training camps.
And it’s the NFL that has more players worried, in unison saying via tweets that they want to play, but not until health and safety questions questions are addressed amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. That is the forefront for the players. They are publicly pleading with the league to address these concerns.
On Saturday, the league informed teams that training camps will open on time even though discussions with the players’ union regarding testing for the novel virus and other health and safely protocols are ongoing. Most prominent players expressed their thoughts in a social media blitz Sunday.
“We need football, we need sports,” said New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “The NFL’s unwillingness to follow the recommendations of their own medical experts will prevent that. If the NFL doesn’t do its part to keep players healthy, there is no football in 2020. It’s that simple, get it done at NFL.”
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said he is concerned because his wife, Clara, is pregnant.
“Yes, my wife is pregnant,” he said, “and NFL training camp is about to start, and there’s still no clear plan on player health and family safety, and we do want to play football but also to protect our loved ones.”
NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and President JC Tretter addressed the union’s concerns in a 90-minute videoconference call with reporters Friday. They want players tested daily for the virus. A joint committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches formed by the NFL and NFLPA recommended testing every other day.
Other outstanding NFL issues include number of preseason games. The league has planned to cut the exhibition schedule from four games to two while the union wants none. Players also wanted a 45-day acclimation period to help avoid injuries. The league, in turn, asked them to report early but the union declined. Questions remain on protections for players who want to opt out of playing.
On Friday, the league sent players and teams on Education Protocol for camp that requires clubs to distribute joint educational materials, and to conduct educational sessions for players, staff and family members.
What we are seeing are the players standing up for each other, and for the work their union leadership has done to keep everyone as safe as possible. Plus, the NFL needs to listen to the players union and adopt the experts’ recommendation.
But the main theme is, “We want to play,” and under the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL has the right to impose report dates and teams can fine players who don’t report. And the NFLPA could file a grievance to argue the league isn’t providing a safe work environment under the labor law.
The other pro leagues in the USA have the same thoughts and have passed along suggestions regarding health and safety concerns. So far, MLB has played some exhibition games, with Friday being the opening day. The NBA has its “bubble” in Disney World, the virus restrictions are being enforced, the teams are staying in the hotel complexes, tests are being conducted, and the campaign is slated to start at ESPN Wide World of Sports on Friday, July 31.
As far as golf and tennis are concerned, they’ve been playing. Restrictions are applied. Fans must be spaced out and maintain the 6-feet social distancing. Face masks must be worn if the particular tournament requests. Crowds are being limited, so no spectators are allowed near the tennis courts or golf courses or players.
Can’t leave out NASCAR and horse racing. Both have followed the restriction orders and have been running regularly. Not many fans in the stands, but the interest is there.
And at least sports in this country has returned. And at least television is there to view them. Yes, there’s still the virus threat, but you do or you don’t, and the US of A is making the divine effort to do whatever it takes.