VOICES: The NFL has an ethics crisis

Categories:  Opinions    Sports
Thursday, October 8th, 2020 at 12:04 PM
VOICES: The NFL has an ethics crisis by Sam Bohen
Photo: Fabricio Trujillo from Pexels

In the past week, there have been several alarming, high profile positive COVID-19 diagnoses. This has included the president, several top White House advisors, and at least three senators.

However, for football fans, the concerning positive tests started before any of the political havoc.

In the few days before their Sept. 27 away game, the Tennessee Titans announced they had two positive tests from players on their practice squad. When the Titans traveled to Minnesota, the afflicted players stayed home. After their defeat of the Vikings, the Titans announced that there were eight more positive tests within their organization.

This announcement would force the Titans and Vikings to both close their team facilities and postpone activities. The Vikings, in the subsequent days, would report zero positive cases, winning their next game against the Texans.

The Titans, however, were not so lucky.  

The team would continue to report more cases, and ultimately the NFL postponed their scheduled matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, the Patriots star quarterback, Cam Newton, would also report a positive test. The league would postpone the Patriots matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs by one day, giving a solution that wasn’t really a solution. Instead, the league made the Patriots play without their best offensive player.  

The question now becomes, in the midst of Tennessee’s outbreak, how could the NFL not see this coming? And, based on the solution to the Patriots game, what will happen when star players inevitably keep getting sick? 

There isn’t any type of guidebook for these scenarios. In fact, unless you are the world’s oldest person, chances are this is your first pandemic. So, one could argue that we give the NFL a break. Roger Goodell and the owners, they’re learning as they go.  

But other sports have been back for awhile now, and we can reference what other leagues have done to prevent outbreaks from happening.  

The most popular handling of the Coronavirus pandemic has been for professional sports to operate inside of a bubble. The theory being that if all the athletes quarantine when they arrive to the bubble location, and then do not leave and constantly follow CDC guidelines, there won’t be an outbreak.  

Major League Soccer had a 26-team tournament with Orlando serving as the bubble location. Right before the beginning of the tournament, 10 players from Dallas FC tested positive. The club left the bubble and did not participate. Swift action from the league made sure the remainder of the tournament was able to go forward. 

The NBA also used Orlando as its bubble location. The NBA Finals are currently ongoing, because there were no positive tests in the NBA bubble thanks to players following strict procedures set in place by the league (Danuel House, notwistanding)

The NHL operated out of two bubble locations, one for each conference. The league conducted over 33,000 tests in the bubble and produced a grand total of zero positive tests, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in an interview with TIME Magazine.  

The only other sport that decided to forego the bubble concept was Major League Baseball. It took less than two weeks for baseball to have a huge COVID-19 outbreak.

Currently, baseball is conducting its playoffs — an expanded, March Madness-style tournament that started with a three-game series for each team. After the Wild Card round, the league took its lessons and began using a bubble-style system. 

The American League Divisional Series will take place in San Diego and Los Angeles, while the National League Divisional Series will take place in Arlington, Texas, and Houston. The winner of each league will meet for the Fall Classic in Arlington.  

OK, so what? We know that the concept of the bubble can work, but what does that have to do with the NFL?  

A lot, actually. 

The NFL is not using a bubble system, and it took three weeks before an outbreak forced the league to alter its schedule. Two games have now been rescheduled for week four. And if we’ve learned anything about the virus, we know this won’t be the last time it runs roughshod through the NFL.  

The NFL has an ethics problem now: do what is best for the safety of the players, or do what is best for the pockets of the owners? The problem is, when it comes down to doing the right thing, or doing the thing that will make the league money, we know how the NFL will choose to move forward.  

The league, unfortunately, has a long history with doing the wrong thing morally. We don’t even have to go that far back to get some prime examples.  

In 2014, Greg Hardy, a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, was found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The league suspended Hardy a hefty four games, and the Panthers released him. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to a multi-million-dollar contract.  

Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed, and will never work again in the NFL after conducting a peaceful protest against police brutality during the 2016-17 season. Kaepernick was not re-signed by the 49ers, and was subsequently blackballed by the rest of the league, despite his numbers generally suggesting positive play on the field.

Let’s not forget the billion-dollar settlement the league reached with over 400 former players in 2014. This came after the revelation that football has a strong correlation to CTE, and for decades the league was letting players play with significant head injuries.  

And, to top it all off, at the beginning of this pandemic season, Jerry Jones (yes, the same Jerry Jones who signed the aforementioned Greg Hardy) was adamant about allowing fans in his indoor stadium. Jones said the stadium’s retractable roof would work like a “vacuum” to keep fans safe. Is that how roofs work, or are Jerry’s pockets getting a little light? 

So, what do all of these long-winded examples mean? 

Don’t be surprised when COVID-19 continues to work its way through the NFL. And don’t be surprised when the NFL decides it would rather let the players get infected than stop playing football. 

Hopefully, this pandemic has changed some attitudes among the commissioner and the team’s owners. As I stated above, the league has already postponed two of the games for week four. Perhaps this is a positive sign of things to come. 

The NFL once again faces an ethics crisis. Will they let the games continue as they are? Will they reformat this season to try to work out of a bubble system? Would they cancel the season outright if the outbreak got too bad? 

I’m not going to hold my breath on any of these options. Because the NFL has shown us time and time again what their prerogative is: making money and winning games. Good luck to any notion of morality – even in a pandemic – that gets in their way.

Sam Bohen is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: nfl, football, sports

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