Richard Sherman, the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive back who has been a union representative since 2014 and is part of its executive committee, was asked a simple question: Will there be an NFL season?
“I think there will be an attempt at a season,” Sherman told Sportico.
Joe Banner, who spent 20 years as an NFL President and CEO for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, said something equally fascinating.
“I think the season starts,” said Banner. “After that we are in the virus’s hands.”
The NFL, for months, has proceeded as if there will definitely be a season, and the odds remain solid there will be.
However, what’s become clear after interviews with several current players, as well as several current and former team executives, is that while many in the NFL believe there will be one, there is still doubt about how it will happen, when it will and how long it will last.
They portray a league that, like the rest of the nation, will have extreme difficulty controlling the impact of COVID-19. They envision a season of starts and stops, throwing the schedule into chaos, and one that never settles into a sense of permanency.
In fact, while the consensus seems to be there will be a season, this is the most doubt expressed by people inside the game since the pandemic started.
The virus is the largest threat to the start of an NFL season since the terror attacks of September 11.
“I have been very confident for months [that there will be a season] but less so now,” said Andrew Brandt, former vice president of the Green Bay Packers, and the current executive director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova Law School. “The virus is raging, and the sport requires the opposite of social distancing. I know the NFL wants to push through as it has the entire off-season but the other leagues’ experiences will be telling….
“I am confident they all begin,” he continued. “I am not confident they all finish. And if one of the other leagues decides on, say, August 10 to scrap their season, is the NFL really going to start in that atmosphere? I’m about 60-40 right now that they’ll play.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league plans to move forward with a season and has issued to teams the NFL-NFLPA education protocols for 2020 training camps. The videos feature both the NFL and the NFLPA medical directors.
But what worries some in the sport is that with several training camps opening this week, the NFL and players’ union are still squabbling over key factors, like testing protocols and safety measures.
The league sent a memo to teams on July 18 outlining a timeline for beginning training camps. Players on Sunday, however, began an orchestrated social media campaign blasting the NFL for what they said was a lack of transparency for safety procedures should a team experience an outbreak.
Using the hashtag #WeWantToPlay, a cavalcade of stars—including league and Super Bowl MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson, Pro Bowl defensive lineman J.J. Watt and Sherman, along with approximately 90 other players—criticized the league not just for what they felt was a lack of information, but also for a delay in relaying critical information.
“We need Football! We need sports! We need hope!” wrote Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Twitter. “The NFL’s unwillingness to follow the recommendations of their own medical experts will prevent that. If the NFL doesn’t do their part to keep players healthy there is no football in 2020. It’s that simple. Get it done @NFL.”
“I am concerned. My wife is pregnant. NFL training camp is about to start,” said Wilson. “And there’s still No Clear Plan on Player Health & Family Safety. We want to play football but we also want to protect our loved ones.”
The orchestrated communication from the workforce was also meant to send a deeper message, some players said privately. Some of them believe the NFL is purposefully delaying the release of extensive protocols so it can box the players into a corner.
“That is my thought,” said Brandt. “[The NFL is] following the MLB blueprint. MLB ran out the clock until they could only play 60 games, which owners wanted. The NFL could have had these protocols together sooner, and maybe they’ve had them, but maybe they are running out the clock to make players feel the urgency to get into camp to prepare for the season. It seems strategic to me.”
Sherman disagreed, saying, “I don’t think that would be their strategy for a number of reasons. I just think they are unprepared.”
Meanwhile, both the NFL and union continue to work on procedures to play and making the game safe in a time of uncertainty.
“If #AdamSilver can respect the voices and protect his @NBA players why can’t @nflcommish do the same?” wrote Bills receiver Stefon Diggs on Twitter. “Listen to your players. If we want to have a full season it will have to look different with OUR safety as the priority. @NFL make the necessary changes.”