Opinion: NFL postponing three games is about COVID outbreaks, not preferential treatment

·4 min read

This apparently will come as news to some in the NFL, but we are still in the midst of a pandemic.

COVID-19 is once again overwhelming hospitals and medical professionals, and even those who have been vaccinated – even some who have gotten their boosters – are proving to be susceptible to the new omicron variant.

So no, the NFL’s decision Friday to postpone three games is not because the league is trying to tilt the scales in favor of certain teams. The NFL Players Association didn’t rewrite the league’s COVID protocols to benefit a certain player or team. The outbreaks are the result of where we are as a society, not misbehavior by a couple of teams.

And tempting as it might be to throw up our hands and say, “Screw it!” to COVID tests and protocols after almost two, exhausting years of them, that would only make it all worse.

Like all other sports leagues – like all of us, period – the NFL is struggling to operate in as normal a manner as possible while COVID and its omicron variant are behaving like Gremlins that were given a bath.

Omicron is more contagious, and the initial courses of vaccines don’t provide as robust protection as they did against earlier COVID variants. While it seems as if omicron is not causing severe cases in those who’ve been vaccinated, we don’t know if those people are more or less likely to transmit this variant.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Rodney McLeod was among those in the NFL on Friday complaining about the league postponing three games because of COVID outbreaks.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Rodney McLeod was among those in the NFL on Friday complaining about the league postponing three games because of COVID outbreaks.

Which means the league can’t just keep doing what it’s been doing, and think that will be enough.

“From the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, our focus has been to play our games in a safe and responsible way, consistent with the best available medical and public health advice,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo sent to all 32 teams Friday afternoon.

“A key element of our success to date has been our commitment to working with our union and our respective medical experts to make needed adjustments in response to changing conditions,” Goodell continued. “The emergence of the omicron variant is precisely the kind of change that warrants a flexible response.”

But that didn’t stop the griping after the NFL announced that the Cleveland Browns’ game against the Las Vegas Raiders would be moved to Monday, and the Washington Football Team-Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams-Seattle Seahawks games would be played Tuesday.

Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN the postponement was a “competitive disadvantage to the Raiders.” Las Vegas cornerback Casey Hayward suggested the NFLPA was willing to go along with the changes because union president J.C. Tretter plays for the Browns.

And Philadelphia cornerback Rodney McLeod complained on Twitter that the Eagles “have to suffer, and compromise our schedule because of another teams mistake.”

The NFL had said over the summer that it would not postpone or reschedule games “simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players.” But what’s going on now goes beyond that.

The Browns, Rams and WFT each have more than 20 players on the COVID-19 reserve list, with the Rams having 29 on Friday. That’s more than half the 52-man roster. This isn’t simply a numbers issue, it’s a question of player safety, and Charles Robinson of Yahoo reported that Cleveland, Los Angeles and Washington would have had to forfeit had the games gone ahead as scheduled.

Given that all three teams are still in the hunt for the playoffs, and there are only four weeks left in the regular season, that would have compromised the integrity of the playoffs.

Robinson also reported that there are some players lobbying for the league to do away with all COVID protocols, including testing. But wishing COVID would go away won’t make it so, and there are still millions of kids who can’t be vaccinated and millions more who are elderly and immunocompromised.

Nice as it would be to just worry about ourselves, we don’t live in isolation. What one person does affects everyone around him or her, who in turn affect everyone around them, and so on and so forth.

The pandemic has revealed an appalling level of selfishness among too many Americans. We now see even NFL players are not immune.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL postponing games about COVID outbreaks, not preferential treatment