Major League Baseball had a long and arduous time figuring things out when discussing the restart of their season. Players stood their ground long enough to coerce the owners into looking like billionaire villains, while the owners attempted to negotiate the number of games down and reveal the player’s greed in the process.
Nobody looked like winners coming out of America’s past-time and many speculated whether or not this posturing was about 2020 or something more. There was a chance that this ill-timed play was made to set the stakes for the upcoming CBA discussions next year.
After summer reached it’s first full month, MLB finally had their deal, finally bringing the two sides together through the ugliness.
In their shadow, however, another league comes into view, one that truly takes up the mantle of America’s past-time.
The National Football League.
Pundits, including those of the infamous show above, have begun postulating the ramifications of the same type of dispute coming from the NFL. Concerns, as coronavirus cases surge in the United States, are coming to the forefront of the discussion on the most contact-heavy sport’s return.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith made his thoughts very vocal on the 28th of June when he stated the following:
— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) June 28, 2020
Mind you, in the context of this ongoing conversation, that is the NFLPA’s head man discussing player based action, not team sanctioned activity. Training camp and OTA’s are presumably out the window, and as the country continues to grapple with the poor response to COVID-19, one cannot help but question whether a league with the track record of the NFL would do right by their players.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said all the right things and played the part of a league full of contrition when the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country. One could question the authenticity of this action, of this level of understanding from a league that knew for decades about CTE terrorizing its players, from a league that puts a cost on paying respect to our troops, and from a league that has consistently punted when its players are caught in domestic violence situations.
The idea is suspect at best if one is to really consider whether the NFL has turned a new leaf and is prepared to do right by their players even if it hurts their bottom line. Things in the United States are not looking good for contact sports, and some in the league have already expressed their opinion on the matter.
Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins made his opinion very clear on the subject.
This sentiment will not be an uncommon one, as players from all sports are abstaining from joining their restarting leagues. What complicates this situation even more than the other sports for the NFL is the sheer contact that must occur for the league to start operations again. NFL teams cannot, under any circumstances, restart without substantial time for their players to train and simulate live contact.
Going into games blind, without any training camp or meaningful practice, means more injuries are likely and rookie development will be halted. This formula is not good for a sport where the art of the tackle is an exact science the league continues to morph to mitigate traumatic head injuries. Imagine what the league would look like if teams, including the hundreds of new rookies, weren’t allowed to properly bring themselves back into the mindset of actual football. Working out together and running seven on seven drills is one thing, but live hitting is something else entirely.
All of that being said, there is another issue that makes the above sentiment even more complicated. If the NFL does wish to come back and begin live contact practice again, will the environment be right for that to happen? Southern states in specific have been ravaged with more Coronavirus cases than had been seen back in the spring when this pandemic first started. Players will be cognizant of that, as Malcolm Jenkins’ comments illustrated.
Not only is the clock winding down on prepping your players for contact, but the conditions of the nation do not give the league a reasonable space to have that happen. Using a bubble like the NBA, which isn’t sure proof on its own right, is not feasible for NFL teams. Players will not wish to begin tackling, blocking, hitting their teammates if the cases continue to skyrocket.
This will create a major dispute amongst players who wish to voice their opinions and have them heard in a way Colin Kaepernick was not. The League meanwhile is attempting to rectify their image as a callous uncaring sport, but may not be able to reconcile this new attitude when millions of dollars in revenue are lost. Many high profile athletes will refuse to play or even practice as the country worsens in its response to COVID-19, and the league with its rich owners will not wish to sit idly by as money goes out the window.
The clock is ticking ever closer to midnight, and without the country taking drastic steps to curb the swell of cases, this dichotomy is guaranteed to last deep into the end of summer. The NFL’s Hall of Fame game has already been canceled due to the undeterred progress of the coronavirus. Current national circumstances are already affecting the NFL, and things aren’t about to become easier in a flash.
As time creeps closer to when football must decide to start, two trains are running straight at the league. One train is filled to the brim with the systemic failures of the freest country on earth fumbling a global pandemic that is sure to strike with a vengeance in the fall. The other is a train of players burned by a league that has never shown interest or care in their well-being.
Each one of these tracks is guaranteed to run into the other, which will cause a cataclysmic clash that will make the disputes of the MLB seem tame. What lies ahead for America’s favorite sport is one of great debate, whether it can survive the sensibilities of an increasingly progressive age while keeping their bottom line intact.
Baseball drew as much blood as it could in this pursuit, to great pains to its reputation amongst the American public. The NFL has been in the good graces of many for years, but the veneer of their operating ways is starting to edge off.
By the end of this upcoming month, we will see what lies in store for football. Will the league come together to unite the nation under the sport we love, or will the ugliness and bitterness of its past ruin the gridiron for 2020?