With the scheduled start of training camps looming later this month, the NFL and its players’ union continue to discuss protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the union insisting it will prioritize safety above all else.
“Every decision we make this year has to be made through a medical lens,” NFLPA president J.C. Tretter said on Friday during a videoconference with nearly 100 journalists organized by the Pro Football Writers of America.
To that end, on Thursday night Tretter chaired an emergency meeting with team doctors representing franchises in areas that have become virus hot spots.
DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director, said on the call with reporters that doctors told the union they believed it was safe to open camps under current NFL guidelines.
But there is much still to work out. For example, the players want no preseason games — down from the current two — to ensure proper time for athletes to reacclimate after long layoffs. And they want daily virus testing.
NFL teams met via videoconference Friday, after which the league issued a statement saying it “will continue to implement the health and safety protocols developed jointly with the NFLPA, and based on the advice of leading medical experts, including review by the CDC.
“We will address additional issues in a cooperative way.”
Smith and Tretter agreed the NFL has been willing to talk, but the clock is ticking and players are not yet entirely comfortable.
Like baseball, the NFL plans to hold games in regular stadiums and not in an isolated “bubble.” Unlike baseball, NFL players are in constant close contact with one another.
Tretter, a center for the Browns, might play the most dangerous position on the field in that regard.
He said when watching video of linemen in cold weather, “you can see how much breath is being blown back and forth being a yard away from each other.”
To illustrate the seriousness of the virus, Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth joined the PFWA call and told of it rapidly spreading through his family, including him, his wife, his children and his in-laws.
“It doesn’t take much, and it can spread like wildfire,” he said.
Smith said that in the early discussions about protocols, it was assumed come midsummer virus trends would be moving in a positive direction.
“The reality is in a lot of states right now, that trend has been in an opposite direction,” he said, later adding the best thing fans can do to return and retain sports is to wear face coverings in public.
Smith chided coaches who have downplayed risks during the pandemic.
“Slogans and wishful thinking haven’t led our country through this pandemic,” he said, “and it will not lead football on any level through this pandemic.”