The National Football League will play its schedule this fall. Even it baseball never throws its first pitch. Even if a second wave of COVID-19 kicks in. Even if some states ban gatherings of 1,000-plus. And while post-coronavirus football will make adjustments, none will change the essentials of the game.
This week’s NFL draft will not be in vain.
Yes, training camps will start later than usual. But come on. The starters hardly play in the pre-season games anyway. They’ll be ready on opening day.
Coaches, who tend to be older and therefore at greater risk of COVID complications, will now wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) on the sidelines. No big deal though—most of them already look pretty nerdy.
More devastating: fans may not be allowed in the stadiums, protecting the larger population but making the NFL a TV-only league. But here’s a news flash: people like watching football on TV! We’ll miss the tailgating and the 12thman heroics, but we’ll adjust.
Then there’s the players. They’ll have to contend with a new threat: COVID-19. But let’s be real. NFL locker rooms aren’t exactly nursing homes (though Tampa Bay’s room may get reclassified as an assisted living facility since Tom Brady’s signing).
Still, the risk of hospital stays or even death for COVID-19-inflicted NFL players isn’t zero. A handful of players have diabetes, some have asthma, and as many as 14 percent have high blood pressure(and 90 percent of linemen), according to American Medical Association-published studies—factors that increase the risk for COVID-19 complications.
So let’s cut to the chase: how many COVID deaths can we expect in the 2020 season? One? Two? Three or four at the most? Well guess what? Four active players have diedin three different seasons: 2007, 1964 and 1963, and three have died in six campaigns, most recently in 2012. Yes, those are high numbers. Yes, each death is tragic. Yes, it’s sad. But experiencing three or four deaths of active NFL players in a season is not unheard of.
And let’s face it. Health implications are far worse for retired players than for active ones. More than half of NFL playershave body mass indexes that put them at risk of diabetes. The high blood pressure increases the likelihood of future heart disease. Then there’s chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma, resulting in symptoms like memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and suicidal behavior. A studypublished in the Journal of the American Medical Associationin 2017 found CTE in 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players they studied. To sum up: nearly every NFL player gets it.
Indeed CTE has introduced a new brand of danger to the NFL—and the coronavirus can slot right into that same lane. If players inhale each other’s potentially coronavirus-laden droplets in the trenches or when they’re putting a big hit on that running back or when they’re doing those homo-erotic end-zone celebrations, well, it’s all part of the game. It’s their destiny. It’s American’s destiny. Let’s embrace it!
Let’s savor Tom Brady’s new quest to lead a non-Bill Belichick team to the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to take place in Brady’s new home stadium in Tampa Bay this year, by the way. Let’s rejoice when the nation’s betting capital finally gets its own team as the erstwhile Oakland Raiders open their first season in Las Vegas. And most importantly, let’s take note that the Buffalo Bills are No. 11 in the pre-season power rankings of both ESPN and Sports Illustrated. After more than two decades of frustration and entering the fourth season of a Brandon Beane / Sean McDermott-led rebuild, the Bills are ready to return to form.
We can’t let that just slip away.
The photo at the top of the page by chaddavis.photography is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license: cc-by-sa-2.0.