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NFL Players Have Right to Feel Safe before Opening Camp

You remember Rudy Gobert, right?

It was March 11 when the NBA suspended its season after the Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus.

Over the next 48 hours, the NHL and MLB also hit the pause button.

All the while, NFL training camps were some 136 days from beginning.

The first Sunday of the regular-season schedule was six months away.

Translation: The country’s most powerful and popular league believed it had plenty of time to get things right regarding safety protocols.

But it’s July 20, and a final few grains of sand are about to trickle through the league’s hourglass. Sponsored, of course, by Anheuser-Busch.

Twitter barrage

The NFL has a major problem, and it’s not about the displeasure of fans this time. Players on Sunday attacked Twitter like Aaron Donald a quarterback, imploring the league to define a clearer path and strategy for keeping them and their families safe before opening camp.

One after another, star after star, messages flooded across social media. It all began with a tweet from Texans defensive end J.J. Watt on Thursday. He shared concerns of players and those safety areas they thought still hadn’t been properly communicated.

Things such as how often tests would be administered or how a positive result might affect a player’s contract or roster spot. Or the number of preseason games. Or an exact training camp acclimation period. Or what type of opt-out clause would be available for high-risk players or that of their families.

On Saturday, the league informed teams that training camp would begin July 28.

On Sunday, the Twitter barrage commenced.

“I’m not really part of the process,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “I know they’ve all been talking between the league and the players. (Owners) get macro (details) until it comes down to a vote. Both sides are working hard trying to get something done.”

Most of the Twitter comments from players were accompanied by the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. I’m sure they do. They also want to be convinced the league is taking seriously a virus that has 3.8 million confirmed cases nationally, including 142,000 deaths.

Wondering: Despite the league having already decided on protocols for physical distancing at team facilities, cleaning and disinfecting, and a three-tiered system for specific access, how are so many critical items still unresolved?

Call it the NFL being overconfident in a timetable. Or the league’s ignorance to the long-term staying power of a pandemic. Or an unhurried nature to properly embrace and/or accept the science of it all, reportedly ignoring the advice of its own medical professionals.

Which would suggest, on some level, the NFL’s standard extent of arrogance.

Think what you want about NFL players and their wealth and elevated societal standing and often haughty sense of entitlement. They also have wives (some pregnant) and children and parents and grandparents.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has three children and another on the way. And he shouldn’t take every precaution to ensure his health and that of his family?

Same with every other player.

No 2020 season?

The NFL can, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, impose a report date for camp. It also can fine players and forfeit their bonuses and salary for not doing so.

But forcing the issue now would exhibit a ridiculous level of narcissism and greed, even for the NFL. I’m just not sure how much it cares.

“I could see three possibilities,” Davis said. “We could start (camp) this week and have our quarterbacks and rookies come in. Or they could say we’re delaying the start of the season until we have a little more clarity. Or, at some point, they can say we can’t have a season this year and maybe we should just wait.”

I haven’t for once believed the latter is a realistic option. Still think they play.

Those tweets from players were part negotiating tactic and a whole bunch of legitimate concern. It’s not as if the NFL doesn’t have a plan for specific training camp protocols and beyond. It’s just not conveying them well enough to those who matter most. Maybe it should. Like now.

Those final few grains of sand are about to trickle through the hourglass.

Maybe it’s time we see how seriously the NFL takes another part of the CBA: An obligation to provide a safe working environment.

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