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As training camp nears, Seahawks players voice concerns over NFL’s lack of clear COVID-19 plans

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks-Training Camp Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL insists that they will have training camp for the 2020 season start on July 28th as scheduled. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the USA and worsening in all but a handful of states, the plan is for the season to start on time but with obvious restrictions concerning fan attendance and important things like post-game jersey swaps.

I think it’s natural to expect that the athletes want to play football. It’s a game they’ve loved as children and now get paid anywhere from six figures to eight figures per year to play. But the NFL’s COVID-19 plans are not only not clear, they’re not even complete. That’s not lost on the players, including several marquee Seattle Seahawks like Russell Wilson, Duane Brown, and Tyler Lockett.

According to Houston Texans star JJ Watt, the players still don’t know the league’s plans for COVID-19 testing, whether we’ll have preseason games at all, opt-out clauses, etc. Those are quite significant hurdles to clear with August less than two weeks away and Week 1 of the regular season inside of two months.

It seems a bit odd that these things are still being negotiated this close to training camp, yet Dan Graziano of ESPN has reported that the NFL assumed that daily COVID cases

For the record, daily new reported cases of COVID started significantly increasing again last month and towards highs that far exceed the worse from late March and much of April. And if you’re wondering why countries like Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom have all been able to play soccer for the past several weeks, that’s because their daily new case rate and overall positive rates have seen a consistent decline.

Numbers from Johns Hopkins University

Our own increase in cases is not simply because of more testing. If the positive rate is going up with the testing then we have problems, and lo and behold the positive rate has sadly been creeping back up for weeks now.

What Graziano is tweeting seems to imply that the NFL didn’t really have a plan for a worst case scenario. If so, that’s grossly incompetent and even more egregious since the pandemic was declared at a time when they were the only major sports league in an offseason.

Player safety has been a very important topic concerning this league for quite some time but that’s mostly been focused on the severity of head injuries and brain trauma. This is a highly contagious virus that can be fatal, and to look outside the life/death binary of outcomes there may be serious long-term health consequences regardless of age. This is not just for the safety of the players, but also their families and friends. And yet, this is where we are.

I said way back in March that “we are going to have to prepare for the possibility of a delayed, truncated, or outright cancelled 2020-21 NFL season if there are no considerable improvements made by the summer.” Well we’re in the summer and not only have improvements not been made as a collective nation, it has gotten worse as the outbreaks have shifted away from New York and New Jersey and towards states like Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona.

It would ultimately still be unthinkable to see an organization as valuable and powerful and hugely vital to American culture as the NFL just not play at all, but I think even the most optimistic person surely has some reservations about trying to run this season as normally as possible amid this pandemic.