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NFL players seek to apply pressure on health protocols

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is among the National Football League Players Association to participate in the #WeWantToPlay campaign on Twitter to press the league for improved health and safety protocols this season. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

National Football League players have initiated a coordinated Twitter program to raise attention to the fact that health and safety protocols have still not been finalized for the upcoming season.

With just about a week before the scheduled July 28 start of full training camps, the NFL Players Association and the league remain locked in negotiations over specific parameters to manage the season amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

In an effort to press the league to pay greater heed to health experts, a large group of players including many of the game’s most prominent stars tweeted their respective concerns, each with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay.

The move follows a recent blog post by NFLPA president JC Tretter, also a center for the Cleveland Browns, who claimed “the NFL is unwilling to prioritize player safety and believes that the virus will bend to football.”

“What you are seeing is our guys standing up for each other and for the work their union leadership has done to keep everyone as safe as possible. The NFL needs to listen to our union and adopt the experts’ recommendations. #WeWantToPlay,” Tretter tweeted.

Among the key elements still unresolved are the exact virus testing procedures and frequency for players, parameters in which players can opt out of the 2020 season, how positive test results will be handled, and the number of preseason games each team will play. NFL team owners have proposed to reduce that preseason game number from the typical four to two, but players are seeking a total elimination of the exhibition schedule this year. 

The union is also seeking to get a better handle on how camps will be managed in key United States hotspots where virus rates are particularly surging such as Florida, Arizona, and California.

Those unsettled issues remain even as rookies are still due to report to training camps on July 21, quarterbacks and injured players on July 23, and all other players on July 28.

“We need football! We need sports! We need hope!,” tweeted New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “The NFL’s unwillingness to follow the recommendations of their own medical experts will prevent that. If the NFL doesn’t do their part to keep players healthy there is no football in 2020. It’s that simple. Get it done @NFL.”

The NFLPA’s coordinated player campaign on Twitter carries some echoes of the “when and where” campaign the Major League Baseball Players Association used last month during their fractious negotiations with MLB over the restart of their 2020 season. Those parties, however, were never able to reach a negotiated agreement on the length of the baseball season, and that labor relationship remains troubled.

On July 17, NFL teams participated in a conference call to receive an update on the ongoing efforts to prepare for the upcoming season.

“We will continue to implement the health and safety protocols developed jointly with the NFLPA, and based on the advice of leading medical experts, including review by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the league said in a statement. “We will address additional issues in a cooperative way. All decisions will be made in an effort to put us in a position to play a full regular season and postseason culminating with the Super Bowl which is the shared goal of the clubs and the players.”

The 2020 regular season remains scheduled to begin in September, though it will begin with limited to no attendance, depending on local and state health guidelines. Several individual teams have recently detailed plans to have at most a quarter of their stadium capacities filled, if permitted.

In the meantime, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson offered some of the most pointed comments about the still-nebulous details to begin training for the upcoming season.

“I am concerned. My wife is pregnant. @NFL training camp is about to start,” Wilson tweeted. “And there’s still no clear plan on player health and family safety. We want to play football but we also want to protect our loved ones. #WeWantToPlay.”