I know I’m not the only one who’s really glad that the NFL is back. I’m also not the only one who has concerns. Though my concerns are more about health and safety than some people’s are.
There are three big issues to discuss with the NFL coming back. The first is COVID-19. Football teams are massive, and many positions (the offensive and defensive lines) cannot be done without standing face-to-face with another player. Even though most other sports have started back up in some way, football teams are way too big to bubble like the NBA and NHL have done. The risk of transmission may also be somewhat greater than in say, baseball, as social distancing and football don’t really jive.
That said, the league is conducting extensive testing and monitoring, and most teams are forming bubbles that they only break during games. NFL teams already use private planes and buses, and stadiums are housing few if any fans. It’s not perfect, but it seems to be working so far. Players had the opportunity to opt out of the season if they felt unsafe, and several did. It remains to be seen whether every player should have skipped the year.
The other issue is protesting. The NFL and BLM have an interesting relationship. Colin Kaepernick’s protests and the retaliation against him by the league, and then the subsequent support for him from players, from coaches, and from outside the league made people sit up a bit more to see what the NFL would do. And while again, it isn’t perfect, I and many others have been pleased by the response.
The league has clearly recognized its moral mistake in its previous handling of BLM, or at least recognized its business mistake. Kaepernick was right to protest the killing of Black people by cops, and the NFL was wrong to stop him, so when players demanded that the league make a strong statement — literally gave words for the commissioner to speak — the league did as asked. Was this because the commissioner and the owners understand the pain of their players, employees, and fans? Was it because they were scared of a players’ strike? Was it because they were worried about their bottom line?
I’m not sure it matters.
The league has allowed teams to have nearly any form of protest they feel is right, and games have been preceded not just by the U.S. national anthem, but also by “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a century old song often referred to as the Black national anthem. The league is openly broadcasting BLM protests to one of the biggest audiences in the country; even if they’re doing it begrudgingly, that’s a good thing.
Some fans are, of course, disgruntled. Either their racism will win and they’ll stop watching football, or their love of football will win, and they might educate themselves and learn why their beliefs only hurt this country. Either way, as a football fan, I see it as a win for the sport. There’s no place for racism in sports. Or anywhere, for that matter.
The last issue is the actual football. With no preseason and shortened, limited training camps, what will teams look like and how will they play? I think we saw this in week one. Players aren’t as in shape, so injuries feel a bit more common. Teams like the Chiefs, Ravens, and Saints, who are returning most of their key players, have a big advantage over teams like the Buccaneers and Bengals who are trying a new system, even though they may have talented rosters.
The National Football Conference (NFC) west looks like it will have some incredible competition, so keep an eye out there. The American Football Conference north and NFC south are both divisions worth watching.
What does Cam Newton look like in New England? DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona? Tom Brady in Tampa?
Despite early flashes of one thing or another, I think it’s still too early to tell for certain. But I’m really excited to find out, because I’ve been bored.