Ryquell Armstead should be a starting running back for the Jags this season. COVID changed all that


On Sunday, ESPN reported that Jacksonville Jaguars running back Ryquell Armstead is expected to miss the rest of this season due to COVID-19 complications. It should be noted neither Armstead nor the Jaguars have confirmed he contracted the virus, but he has reportedly been hospitalized twice and continues to struggle with “significant respiratory issues” among other problems.

It was only a matter of time before this happened with an NFL player.

An optimist would believe that this could change minds, but it’s hard to be much of an optimist these days.

Armstead is just a few days shy of his 24th birthday. At his NFL scouting combine less than two years ago, he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, put up the 225-pound bench press 22 times and showed off a 7.02-second three-cone.

The point is, he’s fit.

And young.

Just the type of human being some of us are repeatedly told on social media who won’t be affected by COVID. It’s implied that we shouldn’t be concerned whether human beings like Armstead contract the virus because they’ll be fine.

They’re young! They’re healthy!

COVID does not care about any of that.

It feels like this has been written before, but we’ll keep writing it: There is a large spectrum between “perfectly fine” and death. And what happens in between is being learned every day, as this seemingly unending pandemic worsens all over the country and doctors gather more data. Some contract heart issues, some significant lung damage.

They signed up for this!

Sure, in theory. But Armstead is a 2019 fifth-round draft pick. He played all 16 games last season, and after the Jaguars cut Leonard Fournette, he was in line to be the team’s starting back. If he got that chance and played well, in a year it could lead to a contract that could change the course of his young family’s future and enrich it for generations.

Would you pass up that chance? Especially if you were young, healthy and told there were going to be precautions taken in your workplace to minimize a potential spread?

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Ryquell Armstead (23) is theoretically in prime health and shape, but COVID doesn't discriminate. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Ryquell Armstead is theoretically in prime health and shape, but COVID doesn't discriminate. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Let’s not forget that the NFL downplayed the long-term effects of concussion and CTE for years. We’re supposed to fully trust it now, when getting games on the fields means billions for the billionaire owners?

Does Jacksonville team owner Shad Khan or Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones truly care what happens to Ryquell Armstead as long as they get their shares of the NFL’s massive revenues?

Do you, as long as you get to sit on your couch on Sunday refreshing stats for your fantasy team?

This has been the risk all along, but these players’ humanity often takes a backseat for on-field entertainment.

And this is a league where time and again fans side with team owners, the billionaires sitting in their gilded luxury boxes with their cronies in billion-dollar stadiums almost always paid for with fans’ tax dollars. They side against the people they actually pay to watch, the ones who are making significant physical sacrifices.

Criticism rained down for months on sports media members who said that playing in a pandemic was a bad idea. The human side of things is why many in the media said it was a terrible idea. We see them as people and understand the challenge of team rosters, coaching staffs and family members healthy through airplane flights, hotel stays and, oh yeah, a high-level contact sport.

ESPN reported that Armstead is “expected” to return in 2021.

But he wasn’t “expected” to require at least two hospitalizations when he contracted COVID because he was young and fit and healthy, so how can anyone make that prediction at this point?

Armstead is the first NFL player we know of whose playing time has been significantly impacted by the virus. For myriad reasons, his life and that of his family’s could be forever altered.

Hopefully he’s the last. But one is too many.

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