Challenges For The NFL, MLB And Their Unions

A week ago Tuesday, the Ravens and Cowboys played a Tuesday night NFL game.  Ravens’ WR, Dez Bryant, was scratched from that game at the last minute based on a positive COVID-19 test and he has spent the intervening time separated from the team.  That sounds good and proper and all “protocol-ish” – – except that:

  • Bryant was seen on the field during warmups – – before his positive test was announced – – embracing former Cowboys’ teammates.
  • Bryant was in proximity with other players on the Ravens’ team and Ravens’ staff all during the time leading up to the warmups prior to the game.
  • Those Cowboy players who were embracing him and the Ravens’ players who were with him in the recent past and all the Ravens’ staff members in contact with Bryant participated in the game.
  • Question:  What happened to “contact tracing”?  Isn’t that part of the NFL “health and safety” protocol too?

Thankfully, I am not aware of any situation where an NFL player has come down with COVID-19 and wound up in an ICU or a morgue.  However, if there is a gap in the contact tracing and protocol enforcement as large as the one outlined above, it is a wonder that has not happened.  Here is the latest COVID-19 data relevant to the NFL that I can find:

  • For the week November 29 through December 5, the NFL had 18 players and 27 “other personnel” test positive for COVID-19.
  • From the start of the protocol on August 1, the league has had 173 players and 295 “other personnel” test positive for COVID-19.

The Ravens/Cowboys game in question here was the 12th game of the year for the Ravens; it came in the 13th week of the season due to BYE weeks; the full NFL season has 17 weeks.  I recognize that this next bit of math is far too simplistic but let me do it anyway; let me do a linear extrapolation of the data to a full season.

  • Under that assumption, there will be 226 players and 388 “other personnel” who will have tested positive for COVID-19.

We have seen how the testing and the protocols have contorted the NFL schedule so far forcing things like the Tuesday night game referenced here.  The league and the players’ union have worked hard and worked together to get the season to this point – – and now they must step up their game.  The season ends three weeks from now, if there are indeed 226 players who have tested positive, that is more than the equivalent of 3 full teams – about 10% of the league.  Four weeks from now, the playoffs will start; here is the challenge for the NFL and the NFLPA:

  1. Come up with enhanced restrictions on outside activities by players and staff for the teams in the playoffs.
  2. Increase testing – – AND TRACING – – and enforcement of infectious isolation.

The playoff schedule will not provide nearly as much flexibility as did the regular season schedule and it would not redound to the credit of the league and or the union if fans perceive that COVID-19 testing and test results affected the competitive balance of the playoffs after everyone had a season’s worth of experience in dealing with the virus.  Putting teams in bubbles is not feasible; I get that.  But the NFL is a $15B per year entity; it ought to be able to come up with some enhanced processes here.  Get on it …

And speaking of professional sports leagues and their unions, there should be no surprise here for anyone to learn that the MLB owners and the MLBPA do not agree on the second most fundamental question about the 2021 season:

  • The MOST fundamental question is whether there will be a 2021 season.
  • What the two sides now disagree on is when it will start and how many games will be played.

MLB wants to push back the start of Spring Training and have Opening Day be sometime in mid-May to be able to have players and staff vaccinated at the outset of Spring Training.  That would mean shortening the season to about 130 games from 162 games.  The MLBPA says they want to start everything on time and play a full 162-game season.

  • Fie on both sides!  I hope you all drink curdled eggnog this Holiday Season and spend days dealing with the food poisoning that results.

We have seen this opera before; the two sides argued over the length of the 2021 season ad nauseum.  Give it a rest, folks.  We can now see an end to the days of the pandemic and that ought to provide some impetus to redoubling efforts to break through to those days when COVID-19 can be described in the past tense.  Even if there is some disagreement here, try to minimize it instead of trumpeting it into a cause célèbre.  A report in USA Today quoted an unidentified MLB owner saying:

“I don’t see a snowball’s chance in hell that spring training can start with protocols in place. I think there will be significant pressure for players to get the vaccine first before they go to spring training, and if that has to be moved back to April and play 130 games, so be it. But to have 162 games and start Spring Training at the normal time without players being vaccinated, that’s just crazy.”

And … they’re off and running…

Finally, yesterday I mentioned Kyrie Irving and his intended media boycott for the NBA season and the fact that the league had fined him for stiffing reporters at some sort of media event.  Dwight Perry had a different slant on Kyrie Irving’s stance:

“The Nets’ Kyrie Irving released a preseason statement instead of talking to media, he said, to make sure his message was ‘conveyed properly.’

“There goes any hope of getting his latest Earth-is-flat insight.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “Challenges For The NFL, MLB And Their Unions”

  1. Translated from Ownerspeak: “Vaccine is shipping now, we could likely get all the players inoculated well before Opening Day. But the fans likely will not be, and I don’t want to have to pay salaries until Joe Fan can come out, pay $25 for parking, $75 for a seat, and $12 for a beer”

    1. Ed:

      I tip my hat to your linguistic skill and your incisive translation that captures the essence of any Ownerspeak… 🙂

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