New England Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty recently gave us all an inside glimpse into what many NFL players are probably feeling.
While the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic on a day-to-day basis, many professional sports leagues also continue to wrestle with the virus and how they plan to neutralize the threat of it while simultaneously returning to action and profitability.
To be sure, no sport wants to cancel their season. Many professional soccer leagues around the world — particularly in Europe — have already resumed playing without fans in the stands.
The NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB are all tentatively inching toward resuming their 2019 seasons or starting their 2020 seasons sometime in mid-to-late July — at the earliest.
College football and the NFL are both fortunate and unfortunate entities during this world crisis.
They’re fortunate in that their seasons start later in the year, giving them more time to plan and brainstorm strategies and contingencies for how they hope to operate. College football is still two months away and the NFL regular season is almost three months away.
They’re unfortunate, however, in that football as a sport requires more bodies and people to make it happen than all those other sports.
Active rosters at both the collegiate and professional levels of football dwarf rosters in baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer — and that’s not including all the coaches, staffers, assistants, trainers, referees, etc.
Not to mention the fans.
Perhaps somewhat absurdly, the NFL is still planning on playing this season in front of fans — a prospect that grows more unlikely by the day as COVID-19 positive cases continue to rise in numerous states ahead of schedule, and with a potential “second wave” still to come in the fall.
Will the NFL even be able to make any kind of a return this fall?
Dr. Anthony Fauci recently made headlines by sharing his skepticism about football being able to return this autumn … and apparently, he’s not alone.
According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Jason and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots are similarly doubtful — and frankly, quite concerned — about the prospect of returning to “normalcy” with their “jobs” this year in the midst of a global pandemic.
Consider, for example, training camps — which are slated to begin in about a month’s time:
“You think about training camp, there’s 90 guys on the team. Not only are there 90 guys, but there’s a coaching staff usually made up of maybe 15 to 20 … and there are so many other football-essential personnel that are in the building. You’re talking about 32 teams with over 100 members that you have to house; I don’t know if it’s really fathomable for the NFL to be able to go in a bubble,” Jason McCourty said during the brothers’ “Double Coverage” podcast.
Beyond just the obvious health risks inherent in getting that many people together in an enclosed space — sweating, breathing heavily, in close physical contact — there are also the personal angles that need to be considered and kept in mind as well.
The theory of having the season take place in a “bubble” requires all players, coaches, and other team members to essentially cut off contact with their families and loved ones for the entire length of the season.
“I can’t anticipate me being away from the family for that long,” Jason said. “That would be insane. It would feel like forever.”
“I just can’t see me stepping away from my family for that amount of time. When you sign up for different jobs, you kind of discuss it as a family, the hardship of that. For us as players, we never had to think about that. We have training camp kind of in a month and a half, so we haven’t heard until now. The days start counting down. You might be telling your wife with a week’s notice that you’re gone for six months. To me, that would be very tough. If that is on the table, I think that needs to be discussed sooner than later for guys to be able to make that decision.”
It’s obviously difficult for anything to be discussed “sooner than later,” as Devin suggests, because we’re all in uncharted territory together. No one knows for sure what to expect in the coming days, weeks, months, or even years, due to the novel aspects of this virus and the pandemic it has created.
Nevertheless, the point being made by the McCourty twins here is clear: The NFL’s return isn’t just a matter of business, money, or football — it’s also deeply tied to personal concerns regarding people’s health as well as their families.