The novel coronavirus – the one that causes folks to come down with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) – is a center of attention for many categories of folks in the US. Scientists and physicians work to try to understand the virus to find ways to “eradicate it”. Politicians focus on actions they have taken – or would take if they had the chance – to mitigate the spread of the virus and the number of citizens who become infected. Ordinary citizens choose the amount of caution they will accept in their normal lives to avoid contracting the disease while still being able to survive financially. You get the idea…
Another category of folks focused on the coronavirus is the group of people who are trying to run business enterprises while everything else is going on. One such entity in the middle of all this is the National Football League. Looking at the arc of the NFL’s attempts to deal with the virus while still trying to maintain revenue streams, here is what I see:
- Early on, the NFL shut everything down – no workouts, no OTAs, no people in team facilities.
- To keep the league alive, it began to adapt by doing things virtually – including the NFL Draft.
- However, there is no way to play the games virtually …
- Faced with the economic necessity of “re-opening” the league spent time working to come up with mitigating strategies to add health and safety protocols to their extant team rules and regulations. [Aside: Some might say the NFL squandered some of the time it had to do this by trying to wish the virus away. I think worrying about answers on that dimension is not a fruitful way to spend my own time and energy.]
And now the NFL must deal with the behaviors exhibited and the choices made by the 3000 or so folks who get the product on the field and on TV which is where the revenue comes from. The NFL protocols were never going to be as draconian or as effective as those imposed by the NBA in its “Orlando Bubble”. Nonetheless, the NFL got to a stage where the number of positive tests was exceptionally low meaning that the positivity rate for that subset of the general population was something the scientists and politicians would hope to achieve everywhere. Now with a tip of the hat to King Louis XIV of France and a minor modification of his declaration:
Après cela, le déluge.
For the first three weeks of the season, the virus appeared to be held at bay. There were positive tests here or there, but nothing that might be seen as the virus having breached the defenses erected by the league. There were some “poor choices” and “improper behaviors” demonstrated by coaches who chose not to wear masks/PPE on the sidelines during games; the league dealt with that the way it deals with most things by fining the coaches and the teams. I believe – but certainly cannot prove – that some of the NFL execs figured out that fines were not going to be sufficient to get the attention of millionaire players and coaches or billionaire owners so the league floated the idea that fines might be escalated to suspensions and or loss of draft picks in the event of future flaunting of the rules. Amazingly, those coaches began immediately to “make better choices”…
Even with all the precautions and the protocols and the rapid assessments of penalties for violation the protocols, the NFL now faces an outbreak. The Tennessee Titans have about 2 dozen players, coaches and team personnel who have tested positive. The Titans’ game against the Steelers last week had to be postponed and the NFL schedule for several teams had to be juggled to accommodate the time when the titans/Steelers game could be replayed. The Titans went into lockdown; things appeared to be on the mend – – and then there were several new positive tests “in the building”. [Aside: The NFL should be thankful that the Vikings, who played the Titans just days before the rash of positive tests among the Titans, did not experience any wave of positive tests among their players/coaches.]
There are reports that the NFL is investigating how this outbreak may have begun and one report said that the Titans may not have followed the prescribed rules for bringing in a new player for the roster. If that is the case and it can be shown that the current problems can be linked directly to that evasion of the protocol standards, I am not sure there are sufficiently severe punishments available to the Commish. The largest fine he can impose on a team is $5M; that would be pocket change to an NFL owner…
There are more examples of “bad choices” exhibited by NFL folks. Reports say that the Raiders’ tight end, Darren Waller was fined $30K – and about a dozen of his teammates including Derek Carr were fined $15K – for participating in a charity event. Say what? It turns out that the players raised $300K for Waller’s foundation that helps people with drug and alcohol addiction and did so in public without wearing masks. The NFL protocol – negotiated with the NFLPA – says that players will wear masks in public so long as these protocols are in effect. There is plenty of photographic evidence that the players chose not to follow those rules and hence the fines.
Somewhere in the cosmos, Al Davis has a smile on his face. The Raiders have racked up the most fines as a team for violation of these protocols which would not have been welcome elements to Davis’ credo of “Just win, Baby.” Coach Jon Gruden was one of those coaches fined for not wearing masks in Week 1 drawing a $100K fine for setting a bad example. [Aside: Raise your hand if you believe that fine might be “reimbursed” to Coach Gruden somehow, someway.]
Keep an eye on this developing situation. The NFL is out to protect a business entity that takes in $15B a year without any intervention from the novel coronavirus. The teams and coaches are comprised of young men who see themselves as invincible and who – in many cases – have never had to worry about things like maturity and accountability for their actions. The season is only 25% in the books and the behaviors of coaches and players could take several courses from this point on:
- Very positive course: Players, coaches and others see what has happened with the Titans and the Raiders and commit themselves to adherence to the protocols in a way where they even might go over and above the strictures contained in those protocols exhibiting in reality “an abundance of caution”.
- Not so positive course: The protocol restrictions become more and more annoying and the sense of “invincibility” and the attitude that the rules don’t apply to me may set in leading to more outbreaks among more teams down the line.
Finally, since I mentioned King Louis XIV of France above in a snarky sort of way, let me close with one of his very cogent observations – which would be deemed politically incorrect in 2020:
“I could sooner reconcile all Europe than two women.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………