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NFLPA president levies sharp rebuke of NFL’s approach to Covid-19

JC Tretter, Cleveland Browns center and president of the NFL Players Association (Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

JC Tretter, center for the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns and new president of the NFL Players Association, sharply criticized the league’s approach to managing the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in a newly published blog post.

Writing on the union’s website, Tretter said the league is not following medical recommendations as teams prepare to open their training camps late this month and claimed “the NFL is unwilling to prioritize player safety and believes that the virus will bend to football.”

Because the public health crisis arrived in the US following the conclusion of Super Bowl LIV in February, the league has thus far been relatively spared in business and competitive impacts from the virus compared to other major US sports leagues. But as activities now ramp up in preparation for the beginning of the 2020 season, there is now growing divergence between the league and union as to how to go about managing health and safety protocols. 

Broadly, Tretter says not enough is being done to proceed differently as the new season approaches given the new factors that Covid-19 has presented, and says the league is resisting the recommendation of a 48-day training camp schedule presented by a joint NFL-NFLPA committee of doctors, trainers, and strength coaches advising the groups on health and safety protocols.

“Like many 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,” Tretter wrote. “That pervasive thought process will stop this season in its tracks.”

There is also particular disagreement on the number of preseason games that should be played, particularly as the 2020 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio has already been canceled due to Covid-19. The league is seeking a reduction of the exhibition schedule from four games per team to two, and last week appeared to be heading toward a deal to that end with the union.

But the union’s group of 32 team player representatives then voted unanimously in favor of not playing any preseason games this summer. The union said the decision was based in part on recommendations from the joint health committee.

“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,” Tretter wrote. “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 out how game protocols will work. 

“Every decision that prioritizes normalcy over innovation, custom over science, or even football over health, significantly reduces our chances of completing the full season,” he wrote.

The league has not commented on Tretter’s comments. But the union leader said he will continue to press on reforms as the season approaches. Camps are slated to open around July 28.

“We don’t want to merely return to work and have the season shut down before we even get started,” he said. “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 the coronavirus. Making decisions outside that lens is both dangerous and irresponsible.”