January 26, 2021

Under what circumstances can we have a 2020 NFL season?

Knowing what you do about COVID-19, would you play tackle football today?

Nobody wants football back more than I do.

Beyond my love for the game, my entire livelihood depends on the NFL being open for business.

Sadly, it seems nearly impossible that’s going to happen anytime in the foreseeable future, and if it does, it could be a disaster.

If you want to understand the dilemma PLEASE put your politics aside for the moment and focus on the facts as they relate strictly to our favorite sport and COVID-19.

Thursday we set a record in the U.S. with 39,972 new cases of the virus reported in one day, and we surpassed 124,000 total “known” deaths – almost all scientists agree this number is actually higher because of COVID-19 deaths incorrectly allocated to other causes.

The average increase in new cases over the past seven days is 31,172, a 34% increase over the prior seven-day period, and while increased testing has some effect on these numbers, hospitalization rates also are rising in 16 states, and that has nothing to do with more tests.

Most alarmingly, serious cases that require hospitalization and deaths take days and often weeks to occur after a positive test, so we know the worst is yet to come.

Cases are spiking or surging in 26 states, including California, Texas and Florida, the three most viral hot spots right now and home to eight of the 32 NFL teams.

Other NFL states where the virus still is getting worse include Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin, homes to 10 more NFL teams.

Unpleasant as they may be, those are all simple facts.

The NFL’s entire offseason preparation regimen – team training programs, organized team activities and minicamps – have been lost, and regular-season training camps originally were scheduled to begin opening in about 25 days.

We still are alarmingly short on facts as to what causes COVID-19 and how to treat it, and we know we are months, and more likely a year, away from being able to cure it.

What we do know is other countries have found ways to limit and isolate cases, and a few have even become “COVID-free” by isolating or quarantining known cases, conducting mass testing, social distancing, wearing face coverings and doing detailed contact tracing.

Where we are in relation to those five critical elements is controversial to say the least, but irrelevant to this conversation.

Playing football with medical masks on would be highly problematic, but even if that were overcome, the game cannot be played at social distances.

Forget games, let’s just talk about practice. Other than receivers running routes with quarterbacks, name one drill that can be conducted without players making physical contact or occupying space within inches of each other.

The NFL, MLB, NBA and the NHL have talked about safety measures, including expanding rosters to replace players they know will become sick, but that completely ignores the most important facts we do know about the disease.

Without at least a 14-day quarantine for all of their teammates they were in contact with – social contact not just physical – the disease almost certainly will spread.

The bottom line is that with COVID-19 here, it is almost impossible to imagine a more dangerous or risky activity than playing football.

Fans can be protected, but the players, coaches and officials simply can’t be. And short of them leaving their families for the next six or seven months, their loved ones can’t be protected either.

It seems crystal clear that some number of players and coaches, including quarterbacks and other stars, will say, 'No way. Until you can protect me and, more importantly, my family, I’m not going there."

For the rest who are willing to accept the risk no matter what kind of waivers they are forced to sign, some will become very sick, God forbid some could die, and teams, owners and the league will be sued and exposed to millions, if not billions, of dollars of liability they would be foolish to shoulder.

I absolutely, desperately want the NFL back as soon as humanly possible.

But you tell me: Just how exactly is that going to happen?

Sometimes being the voice of reason really sucks.