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Volume 26 No. 225
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NFLers Want Stronger Safety Protocols Before Returning To Play

Dozens of NFL players "blitzed social media" yesterday afternoon with a "clear message: #WeWantToPlay," according to Jori Epstein of USA TODAY. Players ranging from Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson to Texans DE J.J. Watt and 49ers CB Richard Sherman "joined a persistent chorus demanding the league clarify and strengthen protocols to ensure players' health and safety." Wilson tweeted, "NFL Training camp is about to start. And there's still No Clear Plan or Player Health & Family Safety." A source said that infectious disease emergency response (IDER) plans from each of the league's 32 teams "have been submitted and approved by joint infectious disease experts and NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills." The source added that the NFLPA has "received plan outlines over the last few days." Some teams' IDER plans have "already been approved." Currently negotiated protocols "outline requirements for masks, social distancing, regular hand sanitizing and minimally shared equipment." Players "may not share towels, water bottles food or clothing." Shared equipment in places like a weight room "must be cleaned after each use." But players publicly requested "more clarity on opt-out ability in high-risk situations, testing frequency, protocol for players who were in close contact with a teammate who tests positive and more firm IDER plans." Guidelines released by the league and union "don't explicitly indicate how often players who haven't tested positive will be tested" (USA TODAY, 7/20).

MAKE IT PUBLIC: ESPN's Dan Graziano cited a source as saying that the idea for the tweets came from Dolphins CB Byron Jones, who "made the suggestion on one of the players' internal planning calls." The source said that Jones' idea was to "get the message out to the public that the players want to play but want the teams to make sure it's as safe as possible and that it isn't about players just looking out for their money or not wanting to show up for camp." The NFLPA said that the players "weren't instructed to tweet, but the union was 'involved to make sure (the tweets) were (on) factual grounds' regarding negotiations." The NFLPA said that a tweet from player President and Browns C JC Tretter "would serve as its statement" (ESPN.com, 7/19). 

COORDINATED EFFORT: In Houston, John McClain writes tweets by Watt, Texans QB Deshaun Watson, Saints QB Drew Brees, Wilson and other players "launched a concerted effort by union members to try to put pressure on the owners as training camp approaches." One thing the players do know is that outside facilities like NRG Stadium, there "will be mobile units provided by a private company hired by the NFL to do COVID-19 testing and produce results within 24 hours." The NFLPA has recommended players be tested every day (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/20). In Las Vegas, Ed Graney wrote those tweets from players were "part negotiating tactic and a whole bunch of legitimate concern." It is not as if the NFL "doesn't have a plan for specific training camp protocols and beyond," but it is "just not conveying them well enough to those who matter most." Graney: "Maybe it should. Like now." Those "final few grains of sand are about to trickle through the hourglass." Maybe it is time fans see "how seriously the NFL takes another part of the CBA: An obligation to provide to a safe working environment" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 7/20).

MORE TESTING REAX: PFT's Mike Florio noted the testing technology "hasn't developed to the point where the league thought it would be." It still takes "up to 24 hours if you’re lucky, if you’ve got the resources, if you can bring a testing lab onto your property like the Vikings have done.” Florio: “I don’t think we expected to be here. Once we finished the draft and the NFL was feeling good about everything, we thought that there would be enough advances made and the virus would be sufficiently under control that by the time we got to August no problem. Well, big problem” (“PFT,” NBCSN, 7/20). In N.Y., Steve Serby writes the NFL, even with its contact tracing implementation, even with tracing devices on players, "should bend on its plan to test players three times a week and agree to daily testing" (N.Y. POST, 7/20). 

WHAT'S IN STORE: ESPN.com's Graziano noted as part of the protocols, the league "will mandate that team buses cannot be more than 50% full, that there must be at least one open seat between passengers on team planes, that everyone will get his or her own hotel room on the road and that all players and team personnel must wear face coverings while on the road." Teams and players also are being told that they "will not be allowed to leave their hotel rooms to eat in or otherwise use restaurants that are open to the public." While at the hotel, players and team personnel "may not be visited in their rooms by anyone who's not in their traveling party." Thought they are not complete, the document said that testing protocols are "still being negotiated by the league and union" (ESPN.com, 7/17). In Boston, Ben Volin wrote this once again "brings to the forefront the importance of the players buying in to the NFL's protocols for the 2020 season." The NFL's medical experts "can design the best social distancing and testing policies in the world, but if the players don't take them seriously, it won't matter" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/19).

OUT OF TIME: USA TODAY's Dan Wolken wrote despite having the most runway to work out issues, the NFL has "apparently done the least over the last four months as very important deadlines suddenly come into view." Wolken: "How in the world does that happen?" The NFL "still has a chance to work this out before the problems begin to get very real." From the very beginning of the pandemic, the NFL "had the luxury of time being on its side." Wolken: "Suddenly, the clock is ticking" (USA TODAY, 7/20). In Chicago, Patrick Finley goes with the header, "How The NFL Squandered Its Coronavirus Head Start." Pro football was "supposed to be the sport with time on its side." The coronavirus lockdown "began the month after the Super Bowl and six months before the start of the regular season," and that time "has been squandered" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 7/20).