Daily COVID Testing Is The Key To A Full NFL Season
With less than a week to go before the start of our regular season, there are a number of issues I would like to address this month. There is only one place to start:
Despite our vaccination rates being extremely high, we have seen that the Delta variant can infect and spread among vaccinated people. That means, at the moment, we are in a worse spot this year than last year because the NFL has backed off a key component of our previous success: daily testing.
Since the beginning of training camp, we have been testing our vaccinated players once every 14 days. It has been ineffective as we’ve had significantly more incidents of transmission inside the building this year than last year. The NFLPA saw this coming months ago and has been advocating for a return to daily testing because it is more effective way to stop and prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our locker rooms. However, the NFL decided to move to weekly testing; and while that is a step in the right direction, it leaves us open to many of the same problems we’ve been facing.
We are entering the first week of the regular season. These games officially count. The exciting thing about professional football compared to other major sports is how few games we play; and because of those limited games, the result each week is critical. Because of this, I think it’s necessary to peel back the curtain and make players, fans, media and the rest of our football community aware of what we are in store for this season.
We are testing unvaccinated players every single day and they wait for their results to ensure that they are not positive for COVID before entering the building. As I stated earlier, we will now test our vaccinated players once a week. Clubs have been instructed to test fully vaccinated players and staff over the course of three days each week. This then leaves 4-6 days where we don’t know if a vaccinated individual is positive for COVID and shedding virus to those around him. If that happens -- as we have seen it happen repeatedly during training camp -- it could lead to these two bad scenarios:
Scenario 1: For up to six days, the virus spreads throughout the facility with no one knowing. When it gets to the following Monday, the team resumes testing and 10+ players and staff test positive. Those 10+ people now are in doubt for the following game. Some may be able to get cleared before, but some won’t; and that team will be missing key players
Scenario 2: An individual becomes symptomatic on a Friday, which causes additional testing of high-risk close contacts (HRCCs). We find a cluster of positives, which wipes out multiple players a day before the game.
Transmission within our building is what kills us. When we don’t have our finger on the pulse of what is going on inside our buildings, we set ourselves up for failure.
We have seen scenarios like these happen multiple times over the last month. Recently, Tennessee finished up with 14 positives – and the team was 97% vaccinated at that time. It’s not hard to realize how devastating that would be during a week of the regular season. Yet, incidents like this have flown under the radar because players missing training camp practices or preseason games isn’t big news. That will not be the case moving forward and a few teams are already without, or at risk of being without, key starters heading into this opening weekend.
A weekly testing cadence doesn’t just increase the likelihood that the games suffer because players are missing from the field; it also increases the likelihood of a game being cancelled altogether. If a game gets cancelled, nobody gets paid – including the owners – for the revenues lost from that game. The players lose out, the fans lose out, and the owners lose out. It’s the worst-case scenario that we should all be actively working to avoid – and the fact that we aren’t continues to be a source of frustration for our union.
We are all tired. No one likes that this is the world we are living in still this season. No one likes mitigation methods. But we cannot do what is easy over what is right. We cannot do what is cheaper over what is right. We have been warned by our experts that, because of our current testing cadence, we are at more risk of missed games this season than last season. If we continue to go down this path, I need everyone in the football community to be aware of what lies ahead.
RULE CHANGES, THE COMPETITION COMMITTEE AND TAUNTING
There has been a lot of discussion regarding rule changes and new points of emphasis for the upcoming season, with recent comments by ownership and Rich McKay raising some questions among our players about what really goes on. So this month, I wanted to take the time to explain the competition committee and the NFLPA’s role.
The competition committee currently consists of 11 members -- 10 members are selected by the commissioner and one member is an NFLPA representative. Players are at the table, where we make our opinions known and our recommendations heard, but we get a token vote.
Still, we take the time to show up and take part in these discussions because ultimately, we are the ones playing the game; yet the NFL has the votes to push through whatever rule they want.
That leads us to the main issue that has brought up this discussion -- the new taunting point of emphasis. The majority of fans feel that this is a bad idea – and so do the majority of players. It is frustrating to read comments like the ones reported last week saying that the NFLPA were the ones who wanted this change. I can assure you, as an attendee of the competition committee meeting myself, that was not the case. On the contrary, we would support the removal of this point of emphasis immediately.
Fans enjoy the intensity and the raw emotion that our players show on the field; and the overwhelming majority of the time, players understand the line between that emotion and bad sportsmanship. For example, some time ago, the league banned the throat slash celebration, which made sense. It was easily enforced and clear to all. But as we saw in a Colts preseason game – and a number of other preseason games – this attempt at controlling “taunting” is going to be a weekly issue that takes away from the spirit of the game.
This year, don’t blame the players who show too much emotion, and cut the refs a break for doing their jobs. Blame the people who push for rules like this time and time again. We’ve seen this before. In 2006, the NFL wanted to eliminate touchdown celebrations -- a move that most players, fans and media members thought was a bad idea. It took the fans continuing to push back for the league to finally give in and allow everyone to have a little more fun. This is the league’s second bite at the apple and if fans want to see more emotion, I encourage them to continue to voice that to the league.
Finally, as we head into the fall, it means that our Executive Director and Player Directors will be visiting with each club. We will be holding rep elections for the teams that have vacant seats. My message to all players is the same as it was when I was elected: get involved. We the players are the NFLPA. Our union is only as strong as our solidarity, and our solidarity means that all of us have to be willing to participate in our process and stick together.
I wish all of my fellow players a great and successful season.