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The NFL’s COVID-19 outbreak epicenter was in Cleveland on Thursday with 21 players and several coaches, including head coach Kevin Stefanski, either on the reserve list or in isolation after testing positive for the disease.
The Los Angeles Rams, hours behind on the west coast, passed the Browns by adding nine more players onto their COVID-19 reserve list in the evening, bringing their total to 25.
And while the NFL is all about competition, this isn’t a contest anyone wants to lead. The numbers are demoralizing, and anyone with a brain should understand something is definitely amiss.
What we’re seeing is a population of young men at peak physical fitness testing positive for COVID-19, despite the fact 95 percent of them are vaccinated, many are asymptomatic, and none are statistically at risk of suffering a life-threatening episode.
Browns tight end David Njoku, for example, shared how he felt Thursday after his stint on the COVID-19 list.
“I feel amazing,” he said. “Through my COVID experience, I had no symptoms so I feel perfectly normal.”
And it’s true, the NFL has suffered a really bad week. More than 125 players have gone on the reserve list or are on their way because more positives were recorded late Thursday and they will be announced Friday.
But this is not when we can curl up in a fetal position and call for a pause in the season or some special dispensation for the teams in the outbreak epicenters.
This is the time we must simply accept reality.
This is the reality: There’s nothing anyone can do to stop this.
A pause in the season won’t stop this.
This virus is going to virus, regardless of pauses or the current vaccines — which are more therapeutics than traditional vaccines that actually cure diseases.
There are going to be variants, most of which will be weaker than the virus, and they will manifest with no amount of booster shots the NFL might mandate — the league is already mandating coaches and staff take their first booster by December 27 — causing the variants to cease.
In other words, we need to start getting used to the idea COVID is going to happen. It’s going to be around like the flu. It’s going to be around the NFL like knee and ankle and shoulder injuries.
And like those playtime threatening episodes, COVID should be addressed with the knowledge it has lost the battle to overcome the bodily defenses of every single NFL player it has ever attacked.
I get it, COVID fear is real.
But I’ve got a full blown case of COVID fatigue and that’s also real.
So it’s time we acknowledge nothing we’ve done has eradicated this thing and that might be the situation going forward for a while. Because so far, nothing we’ve been told is going to slow the spread or corner the corona has worked.
Wearing masks will stop the spread, we were told. Nope.
Getting vaccinated would stop the spread. Nope.
Getting a booster, we’re now being told, will protect us more than all the other protections that didn’t protect us as we’d hoped.
And after all that, you know what the NFL went back to on Thursday in announcing new COVID protocols?
We’re back to masks and social distancing for everybody.
“All clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel,” a memo sent to clubs read.
This, of course, was met with some criticism — most of it shared among players and coaches privately, but some of it in public.
And by “in public,” I mean Baker Mayfield from his isolation spot after testing positive on Wednesday:
It’s understandable Mayfield wants to delay Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders. The reason is he simply wants more time to test negative twice so he can play.
Would he feel the same if he was healthy and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was on the COVID list?
The Browns’ COVID reserve list, by the way, is scary long.
WR Jarvis Landry
CB Troy Hill
DT Malik McDowell
DE Ifeadi Odenigbo
S John Johnson
TE Austin Hooper
OT Jedrick Wills
G Wyatt Teller
G Drew Forbes
DE Tak McKinley
WR Jojo Natson
S Ronnie Harrison.
The loss of Mayfield and Stefanski, the club’s starting quarterback and the head coach who also serves as the offensive play caller, is a significant gut-punch. But the Browns felt confident backup quarterback Case Keenum, who won a game in a start earlier this season, would soften the blow.
Then Keenum reportedly tested positive on Thursday.
Suddenly, the Browns are left hoping Mayfield can rally with two consecutive negative tests or Nick Mullens is going to start against Las Vegas.
Mullens was a practice squad player when the week began.
Despite all this, the Browns have had an admirable reaction to their situation. Stefanski has stubbornly and smartly refused to rule anybody on the COVID list out for Saturday’s game.
And players have not blinked while staring COVID in the eyes, giving us an example of how it should be done.
“Honestly, it is just mental toughness,” Njoku said. “There are going to be a lot of curve balls thrown at us, and we have seen that from start to finish the past couple of years. Every positive test is just an extra curve ball that we have to hit.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero