Prioritizing Player Safety In A Pandemic
Our normal return date for training camp is quickly approaching and we are still far from back to “normal.” Our main concern is player safety, both in regard to preventing the virus’ transmission as well as preventing injuries after an extended and historically unique layoff.
Like many other industries, football’s resistance to change is based on the belief that the best way to run things is the way we’ve always run things. That pervasive thought process will stop this season in its tracks.
Since March, we have had hours of return to work meetings, reviewed research and developed detailed protocols -- all of which will be wasted if the NFL refuses to think and act differently when it comes to getting through a full season. Players don’t just want to return to work; we want to stay at work.
We did our due diligence and reviewed the impact of returning to play football after an unusually long period away. For example, following the extended break after the 2011 lockout, injuries increased by 25%. Achilles injuries more than doubled and hamstring strains went up 44%.
As a preventative measure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFLPA and NFL formed a Joint Committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches to develop protocols designed to bring players up to full speed in a healthy way when they return. The NFL initially accepted and implemented the Joint Committee’s suggestions, including items like no joint practices and no fans at training camp. However, the NFL was unwilling to follow the Joint Committee's recommendation of a 48-day training camp schedule. Despite these experts’ assessment that teams face a serious risk of player-injury spikes this year (based on past NFL data and recent findings from sports leagues that have already returned to play this year), the NFL is unwilling to prioritize player safety and believes that the virus will bend to football.
Tied to these safe, return-to-work recommendations, there is a similar disagreement in regard to the number of preseason games. The NFL has recently stated it wants to play two preseason games. When we asked for a medical reason to play games that don’t count in the standings during an ongoing pandemic, the NFL failed to provide one. The league did provide a football reason, though -- to evaluate rosters. The NFL also stated that it was important to stage preseason games to check how our game protocols will work.
With no medical reason provided for holding any preseason games and the desire to follow the Joint Committee’s recommendations, the NFLPA Board of Player Representatives unanimously voted against any preseason games this season.
Every decision this year that prioritizes normalcy over innovation, custom over science or even football over health, significantly reduces our chances of completing the full season.
We don’t want to merely return to work and have the season shut down before we even get started. The NFLPA will do its part to advocate for player safety. We will continue to hold the NFL accountable and demand that the league use data, science and the recommendations of its own medical experts to make decisions. It has been clear for months that we need to find a way to fit football inside the world of coronavirus. Making decisions outside that lens is both dangerous and irresponsible.
- JC Tretter