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Armando Salguero: It’s Time To Rethink How We View COVID In The NFL

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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

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

8 Comments

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  1. Armando, I generally agree with your premise, but vaccines do not “cure” anything. They are designed to prevent from contracting the illness in question. Actually, that makes this set of vaccines less like vaccines than therapuetics. What we REALLY need is for Biden to wake up from his nap to push the real therapeutics that are awaiting approval by FDA/CDC. When we get those, we’ll move ahead.

  2. COVID ends, for any person or entity, when they decide it does. Not before, and not after. This is an endemic flu that is going to be here forever (coronaviruses are older than humans and will long out last us). You can’t vaccinate against coronaviruses and we’ve known this for decades. So identify appropriate risk levels by population and adjust accordingly. That adjustment for NFL players would be ZERO CHANGE because they are at ZERO RISK. They either accept that, and move on, or we keep spinning in these circles forever.

  3. Ever have the flu that’s real too this covid deal is all about control not health people know how to take care of themselves and oh yeah how bout our southern border invasion of the unvaxxed unvetted hoards no big deal I guess. Will covid be around for years nobody really knows but we still have a constitution and civil rights that just don’t disappear because of a pandemic period.

  4. In the NFL? How about everywhere. The NFL, like the NHL and NBA, have near 100% vaccination rates and we still get these spikes/rises. So the vaccine doesn’t stop the spread. Masks don’t stop the spread. So enough of the bullshit. I don’t need Fauci, Biden, Newsom, or any other progressive’s SCieNcE. They can’t hide what is happening in these leagues. Its time to just do what DeSantis and the states with the lowest rates have done: NOTHING. Because nothing works

  5. It stops when the players grow a set and just collectively start ignoring the rules. They can all see now that they aren’t at risk so they should just start ignoring all protocol.

    “We got masked. We got vaccinated. It didn’t “stop the spread”. Enough – we aren’t testing anymore unless we feel sick.”

    No way the NFL or their network masters would call their bluff. They’d cave. C’mon Tom, be the real GOAT and lead this charge. It can’t be the Cole Beasleys of the league who lead this.

  6. The article is excellent and the comments are on point. Even before vaccines there were over 200 players who tested positive last season. And no deaths or serious illnesses.
    It is time to stop the Kabuki theater and let players play Football if they feel up to it and want to play.
    But do not force anyone to sit and wait for a meaningless negative result.

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