When the pandemic hit, along with other leagues across the world, the NFL was forced into new protocols for a sport and economy very heavily based on in-person interaction.
Unsurprisingly, the NFL has sordidly failed at approaching the pandemic, reducing risk and promoting sound morals.
In comparison to the NBA and the NHL, who have created bubbles, the NFL has had significantly more positive COVID-19 cases— and more delays, cancellations and uncertainty because of them.
This summer there was much conversation and confusion about whether or not professional football would start back up for the season. It became clear through NFL announcements that the season would occur no matter what, with a small delay at the beginning. The first protocols seemed fairly standard, with players getting tested and being asked to physically distance.
Within a few weeks, several games had to be cancelled due to positive COVID-19 tests. There were significant outbreaks on the New England Patriots — shocker — and the Tennessee Titans. Fans were worried about postponed games affecting their team’s ability to compete when other teams were still playing. Players were worried about their personal safety and the safety of their families. Others in the organization were only worried about economic downsides that would inevitably come from the cancellations. But a focus on profit over people is not a new theme for the NFL.
This COVID-19 response plan, or lack thereof, put athletes at higher risk of contracting the virus, feeling long term effects and hurting their bodies because of it. In short, within the scramble to keep football open, the NFL has proven that they care much more about making money than they do about the safety of their players, coaches and other team members.
Let’s not forget about the players who in protection of their health and the health of their loved ones decided to opt out. If opting out for a medical condition, players received a stipend of $350,000 for the season, those who opted out voluntarily received a $150,000 salary advance and undrafted rookies who opted out voluntarily were not able to receive any money. It seems to me that players who are trying to protect themselves and promote health are being punished.
Because of the unclear and unprepared nature of this fall season, the NFL was pushed into new protocols in early October. The new restrictions include the enforcement of masks or gaiters for coaches and personnel on the sidelines, testing to occur on game day and increased protocol compliance checks. How irresponsible is it that the first time the NFL officially requires masks and gameday testing is in October? The carelessness is evident.
The pandemic has reinforced long-held issues of integrity within professional football. As more time passes, it becomes ever clearer that the NFL is deeply problematic, harmful and corrupt. When we combine the response to COVID-19, continued covering up of domestic violence, controversy surrounding racism and political protest, the amount of life-damaging injuries and more, how could we still be championing this enterprise? The list of red flags goes on and on.
Football was even a topic of discussion at the presidential debate. Why are we continuing to put a heinous amount of money and energy into football when this pandemic is affecting so many more important and crucial elements of life?
I cannot deny the community and connections that flourish through football. I have always loved claiming my cities and laughing with people about games and rivalry. I love that professional football is a way for people to create a valuable and important path in life, and I cannot forget the importance of sports for society. However, something has to and will give out if the NFL doesn’t step up to support people’s lives.
Despite all of this, I do not think that this pandemic will beat the NFL. Fans should be gearing up for an upcoming Super Bowl. Football is valued too much in our country for the pandemic to destroy it. Of course, the NFL will be and already has been significantly weakened economically. I don’t think this is a wholly bad thing.
I hope this pandemic and its effects on the NFL will push change and movement, not only in regards to the health of players, coaches and fans, but in regards to racism and misogyny as well. If the NFL is going to stay, the adverse aspects of it need to go.