Normalizing the NFL During Two Pandemics: COVID and Racism

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Kiersten Warren, STUDENT LIFE EDITOR

Nothing is more characteristic of Sundays in America than football. With 32 teams located across the country and 16 consecutive games during the regular season, the NFL has become just the outlet Americans need to wrap up the weekend and begin the week. To many fans’ surprise, the 2020 season will commence this year, as the country continues to be ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the current issues plaguing the country, like the pandemic and increasing calls to address the issue of social justice, fans of the NFL are left wondering how both will be addressed. 

   The NFL is not starting the season in a bubble scheme, similar to what the NBA and NHL have successfully done. Throughout the course of training camp, the National Football League has administered over 58,000 tests among league personnel and players nationwide. Additionally, each team has created a COVID reserve list, specifically for players who test positive. In the case that a player tests positive, he must meet the following criteria: 2 negative tests within 48 hours and increased symptom monitoring by team health personnel. 

   The NFL, unlike the NBA, was fortunate to have the pandemic affect the country during its offseason, which allowed for other events, like the draft and free agency, to occur. The only major change both the NFL and the NFLPA have agreed on is the cancellation of all preseason games, and training camp extensions. 

   Junior Megan Lear says, “It will definitely be interesting seeing how football games work out among the pandemic. I hope it is as successful as the NBA restart has been.” The NFLPA, or the National Football League Players’ Association, pushed for an extended training camp schedule for a longer acclimation period to prepare for the upcoming season, after such an inactive offseason. Preseason games served as the only barrier, and were therefore removed. 

   As of week 1, only 6 of the 32 teams planned on having fans in the stadium, at a limited capacity. Season ticket holders get first dibs, of course. Yet, all NFL stadiums are said to have some aspect of crowd noise, similar to the NBA. 

   During the 2019 season, the NFL recorded a troubling statistic. Over 70% of the NFL is African-American, while African-American’s only make up 6% of the entire country, which is a major overpopulation throughout the league (Source: US Census). In fact, the NBA has more, with over 80% of players identifying as African-American (Source: ESPN). 

  With the death of George Floyd sparking protests and fueling the never ending fire of racism, the NBA has clearly taken a stance on social justice issues. Senior Zoe Mutombo says, “The NBA and Adam Silver took such a big stance on what’s going on right now. Considering both is comprised of primarily black players, I hope to see the NFL do the same.” The NFL on the other hand, has consistently been under fire for its handling of such issues, most notoriously known for the league’s stance on protesting the national anthem, initiated by Colin Kapernick in 2016. 

   After all of the controversy involved throughout the years, the NFL is putting their money where their mouth is. The NFL has committed to donating $250 million dollars to social justice initiatives during a period of 10 years. 

During the offseason, Roger Goddell, the commissioner of the league, admitted to the wrongdoings the NFL made regarding Kaepernick and the protests. Goddell invited players to voice their opinions, and a video soon became circulated around the media. Well known players like Tyrann Mathieu, of the Chiefs, and Michael Thomas, from the Saints, urged fans in a call to action, and Goodell addressed what the NFL would do to contribute to the cause.

 This season, as we’ve already seen, teams have choices. Teams can choose to remain in the locker room during the national anthem, as the Texans did in the teams’ first game against the Chiefs, or players can be present for the anthem, either choosing to lock arms in solidarity or another form of unity. 

   With the season just over a week into play, there is still much speculation set to occur, teams and fans alike. One thing is for sure: this will definitely be one of the most memorable seasons in all of the NFL’s 101 year history.