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The 2020 NFL season remains on, pandemic or not

It’s full steam ahead for the league. A bold and reckless declaration.

Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It’s been well over two weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the professional sports landscape. As athletes and coaches around the world began to test positive for the coronavirus, commissioners across the board were forced to act. From the NHL and NBA in the States, to the English Premier League across the pond, every respective season concluded on a dour note. If society at large was practicing social distancing to mitigate the spread of a novel virus, then there was no feasible scenario where authority figures could allow their players and fans to keep congregating together. They had a responsibility to fulfill, one bigger than athletic competition. Pucks were taken off the ice, basketballs stopped dribbling, and sports, on the whole, shuttered their doors until who knows when. Every athletic mainstay is doing its part to halt mass gatherings of people. That is, everyone except the almighty elephant in the room who seems to have missed the memo.

The NFL has never been a stranger to drawing attention to itself. It’s football, football, football 24/7, 365 for those sitting in league offices in Manhattan, and many in studios in Southern California. But maintaining a steadfast commitment to charging on with the 2020 regular season as a global pandemic continues to evolve, may take the cake in regards to self-importance. A measure of tastelessness only this specific league could debase itself with.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, nothing appears to have changed for the powers that be. The 2020 season will go on as planned, including international games. It will be a full 16-game slate (for the last time before a shift). Players will mingle. They will travel lengthy distances. They will, of course, be in typical direct, violent contact. And all stadiums will assuredly be empty of spectators. The NBA and NHL probably won’t award champions for their respective shortened seasons. Baseball is delayed indefinitely. But football? Football will happen, damn it. Football is family, or something.

Projecting the impact of a pandemic roughly a half year out is difficult. Effective epidemiology takes weeks, sometimes months, to map. However it shouldn’t be hard to read the tea leaves already laid out in front of the population. Many summer events at home and abroad have already been taken off the table—most notably the Tokyo Olympics that were supposed to begin in late July and will now start in 2021 instead. Yet here the NFL insists 2020 charges on.

The list of cultural and sports touchstones aren’t any less foreboding.

The Louvre Museum in Paris? Closed until further notice. Yet here the NFL insists 2020 charges on. The Met Gala? Postponed definitely. Yet here the NFL insists 2020 charges on. Wimbledon and The French Open? Not happening this year, or any time soon. Every young person’s prime mixing pot of (trauma-inducing) music in Coachella? See you in October. Yet here the NFL insists 2020 charges on. Qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup? Postponed, not rescheduled for the time being.

Yet here the NFL stands, as it somehow always manifests itself in the public eye, maintaining it’s special, of a different breed. Their dollars, their revenue, their lost viewing audience: Those matter more. They can’t afford to shut down for a year, let alone postpone anything. Coffers of owners’ pockets must continue to be filled, even at the cost of human lives and peace. Everyone else in this reality biting the financial and emotional bullets for the greater good? They’re not football. By definition they carry less weight.

A virtual mandate may be the only sign the NFL understands the gravity of the moment. This month’s draft is set to place virtually, over videoconference. Plans and methods are being developed for virtual mini-camps and classrooms. Credit might be due, but then you remember these contingency plans are all being put in place in anticipation of showing up in September and those sentiments of proactivity evaporate. The games on the field must go on. The games in a a pandemic, where players will be more of a danger to each other outside of the usual, cannot be halted.

A novel virus cares not for any individual person’s sensibilities. It doesn’t shed tears for families or businesses. There’s no presence of servitude to a conglomerate, country, or society. All a virus “cares” about (in the abstract of desire) is spreading itself. It spreads until it has nowhere to go, or has been been eradicated. The NFL would be wise to follow the leader(s) of its counterparts in the sports consciousness and begin thinking ahead. Way ahead. This determination to keep the football mill running at all costs won’t lead to anywhere sound.

“All of our discussion, all of our focus, has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs,” said Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president. “That’s our focus.”

The NFL and its sheer avarice has never shocked me with the depths it can dwell. Rest easy knowing, yes, even this league is not immune to a pandemic. Check in a month or two from now. It’s doubtful this tone deaf football family is singing a similar tune.

Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic is a subject that requires sensitivity and care. Many families and people have already been impacted by this crisis as it unfolds. This is a reminder to please express yourself respectfully while also exercising common courtesy in interactions with one another in the comments. All WCG commentary guidelines remain in effect and apply especially. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.