The National Football League showed once again that they put money ahead of player safety this week. The league decided to play the Packers-49ers game on Thursday night to satisfy its network partners despite players on both teams testing positive for Covid-19 just a few days before game day. Now, on Friday, Adam Schefter reported that a Packers player who played in the game Thursday night has also tested positive for Covid-19.
Subsequent reports indicate it was rookie ILB Krys Barnes. Barnes’ positive test creates an additional risk for both his teammates and coaches and the 49ers players who were on the field against them and then all the people who had close contact with them.
Yes, these players are likely to eventually recover as they are young and healthy men in their 20s and 30s although we still don’t know the long-term effects of Covid-19 on the body. But these football players have spouses, children, parents and friends who may be older or may have pre-existing conditions and now all of them are in danger of exposure to this deadly virus.
The NFL could have easily postponed the Thursday night game to Sunday or Monday and waited to see if there were more positive tests. There were no fans in the stands anyway, so paying customers wouldn’t be affected by moving the game back a few days.
Waiting would have also potentially allowed more players on both teams who were kept out of the game because they had close contact with a player who tested positive to play. They would have had three or four more days of negative tests and been able to be cleared for action. Or, they would have tested positive and begun quarantining and been started receiving treatment and started the recovery process.
It also would have made for a better football game. Having so many players out of the lineup certainly reduced the quality of play. The 49ers were without their top pair of running backs and down at least three wide receivers due to injuries and positive tests. The Packers were without two of their top three running backs and their starting ILB largely due to Covid-19 reserve designations.
The NFL should want the best players on the field as often as possible. Games that are decided by illness or injury reduce the quality of play on the field and make the game harder to watch. They also reduce the game’s integrity in the eyes of fans in many cases.
The league could have kept the game on national TV by moving it to Monday night and moving the regularly rescheduled Monday night game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots back by an hour. But that decision would have left no NFL game on Thursday night and obviously the network wanted to keep its scheduled Thursday night slot because the NFL is still a ratings winner for Fox, ESPN, NBC and CBS.
There is no way to safely play the game of football while maintaining social distancing. Players come in close contact with one another on the sideline, in the huddle and on the field of play. If one player is positive for Covid-19, the odds are strong that teammates, coaches and opponents are being put at risk. Most NFL stadiums are empty or at only a fraction of their usual capacity because it is not safe for fans to be so close together like they did before Covid-19 struck.
The NFL needs to demonstrate that the safety of its players, coaches and employees is priority one. It has already decided not to have players enter a bubble or hub cities which may have been logistically difficult and tough on the players but would have done more to ensure their health and well-being.
Instead of just maximizing profit and bowing to the demands of its network partners, the NFL needs to do all it can to see that its players, coaches, employees and fans are as safe as possible, even if that means postponing games or relocating them or even canceling some.
You can do the right thing, or you can just do what makes you the most money. Unfortunately, the NFL has made the wrong choice too often this season.
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