Washington (AFP) - A sharp divide between the NFL and players over pre-season workouts and staging exhibition games was revealed Tuesday, three weeks before players start reporting to training camps.
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing virtual-only off-season workouts, players want more time to address fitness and no pre-season contests as veterans prepare to report July 28.
"The NFL is unwilling to prioritize player safety and believes that the virus will bend to football," NFL Players Association president J.C. Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns, said in a blog on the union website.
The league rejected a 48-day training camp recommendation from a joint NFL-NFLPA committee in favor of a 23-day session before the first of two pre-season games, down from four in prior years, before the scheduled September 10 opener with Houston at Super Bowl champion Kansas City.
"Every decision this year that prioritizes normalcy over innovation, custom over science or even football over health, significantly reduces our chances of completing the full season," Tretter warned.
The NFL said it wanted two pre-season games to evaluate talent as well as to check coronavirus safety protocols before playing games with fans in home stadiums, Tretter said, but the NFLPA board of representatives voted unanimously against any pre-season games.
"We don't want to merely return to work and have the season shut down before we even get started," Tretter said.
"It has been clear for months that we need to find a way to fit football inside the world of coronavirus. Making decisions outside that lens is both dangerous and irresponsible."
Tretter said that medical experts found players face "a serious risk of player-injury spikes this year" based on past NFL shutdowns and injuries in sports leagues that have returned this year after a pandemic shutdown.
"Our normal return date for training camp is quickly approaching and we are still far from back to 'normal,'" Tretter said. "Our main concern is player safety, both in regard to preventing the virus' transmission as well as preventing injuries after an extended and historically unique layoff."
Tretter noted that after players returned following a 2011 lockout, injuries jumped by 25%, with Achilles tendon injuries more than doubling and hamstring strains rising 44%.
"Like many other 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 said.
"That pervasive thought process will stop this season in its tracks."
A post on the NFL website said the league had no comment on Tretter's comments, but an unnamed league source told NFL Network they were "very disappointing and contrary to the sense of collaboration."