On Tuesday, Packers wide receiver Devin Funchess announced via Instagram that he was opting out of playing in the 2020 NFL season because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The former Michigan star wrote: “Family is first. Always has been. Always will be. In such unpredictable times, it’s been one of the constants on my mind as I’ve worked through one of the toughest decisions of my life.”
Funchess went on to explain the reasoning behind his decision. “My closest family members have experienced the life-threatening impact of COVID-19 first hand and for their and my own safety, I’ve decided to opt out of the upcoming NFL season. This was not a decision I took lightly but it’s what is best for my family and myself at this time.”
He continued: “I can’t thank the Packers organization enough for their understanding and for giving me the opportunity to be part of one of the most storied franchises in the league. I look forward to getting back to work with them next season.”
Because of this decision, Funchess’ contract will be pushed up to 2021. He will not be paid this season and will return to the Packers under the same contract next year.
As football fans, it may be easy to be critical of Funchess’ decision. Fans want their team to win and that means putting the best possible players out on the field. The Packers had a need at wide receiver and Funchess was the big addition the team made during the offseason. The Packers didn’t draft any players at wide receiver and Funchess was the only free agent they signed.
But while it’s OK to be disappointed that the Packers won’t get a chance to see what Funchess can do on the field this season, it’s wrong to be angry about his decision. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that professional athletes are human beings, too.
Pro athletes have wives, children, parents and grandparents and while they themselves may be young and in top physical condition, their loved ones may not be so lucky.
There is no way to play in the NFL and socially distance. Every play, players come into close contact with other players, both teammates and those on the opposing team. They will trash talk, scream, sweat, bleed and spit on each other, fall on top of each other and pile on.
Major League Baseball has already demonstrated the dangers of playing a team sport during this pandemic. The Miami Marlins have shown how having just one or two players go out and take risks can jeopardize the health of teammates and opposing players alike. The Marlins will miss at least a week’s worth of games and perhaps more as this situation continues to evolve.
What this shows is that even if Funchess is careful on and off the field and follows all health recommendations and guidelines, it just takes one player on his team or an opposing team to be careless and everybody on the field is at risk. Funchess cannot have control over his own fate. No matter what he does, other people can create a situation for him that could cause him to contract this deadly virus.
There is an inherent risk in choosing to play this season and while that risk may not be so big personally for Funchess, his family members may have health issues that may create a much a bigger risk.
All of us face similar issues when deciding whether it’s safe to return to work. Some of us may try to work from home or take other steps to be safer but that’s not an option for NFL players. And if we had enough money put away that we didn’t need to work until this pandemic eases up or a vaccine is available many of us would make similar decisions.
Funchess has already played five seasons in the NFL and he has earned millions of dollars during that time. He has a deal in place with the Packers to pay him $2.5 million with incentives that could bring that number as high as $6.25 million according to published reports. Hopefully, Funchess has enough money put away so he can get by this year without playing football and still provide for his family.
Also keep in mind that sitting out an NFL season is a sacrifice. Athletes have a short window of opportunity to earn money before they are forced to retire from the game. In the NFL, the average career is less than four years. This is one season that Funchess will never be able to get back. His contract may extend automatically into next season, but another year of potential earnings is gone forever.
Devin Funchess made this sacrifice because he cares most about his family and wants to ensure their safety. That is something we can all relate to. Packers fans may be disappointed that they won’t see Funchess on the field this season, but we can all certainly understand why he made this decision and we should respect him for it.
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