The New England Patriots were one of the last teams in the NFL to send a player to the newly created Reserve/Covid-19 lists. When the virus did eventually arrive in Foxborough, however, it created a challenging situation for the club and the league: with four players being diagnosed with the Coronavirus pandemic over the last 10 days, two of the Patriots’ games had to be rescheduled.
While the logistics behind a positive test are challenging for those directly or indirectly involved, they do not compare with the pressure the men on the proverbial frontlines are under: the players who are in full-contact with others whenever on the field. They are the biggest and also most exposed group of people in the NFL and therefore in a unique situation — and one, it seems, they are in by themselves.
This is at least what New England cornerback Jason McCourty made it sound like during a recent media availability session. McCourty spoke about the support he and his teammates received after seeing others test positive, and he made it sound like it is exclusively coming from within the Patriots organization.
“Throughout all of this, the realization is that it’s not a league-wide thing — it’s a team thing,” McCourty said. “For us in this locker room, this is what we have between the players and coaches, administration, the staff, it’s up to us to kind of take care of one another to make sure physically, we’re all set, make sure mentally. Because I think outside of here, the people that don’t have to walk in our building, whether it’s the league office or whether it’s the NFLPA, they don’t care.
“I mean, we’re trying to get games played and we’re trying to get the season going. So, for them, it’s not about what’s in our best interest, our health and safety. It’s about, ‘What can we make protocol-wise that sounds good, looks good? How can we go out there and play games?’ I think what I kind of learned personally throughout this situation is that it’s going to be up to us as the individuals in this building to just really take care of one another.”
McCourty, a first-time captain who is in his third season with the Patriots, has always been an outspoken member of the team: whether it is game-related topics or the social issues that became a subject of debate again earlier this year, the veteran has never shied away from voicing his opinion. Him slamming the NFL and the players union for their handling of the pandemic is therefore not out of character for the 33-year-old.
And yet, it is notable to see a player of his status openly criticize how not only the league but the player representatives have apparently responded to this tricky a situation.
McCourty, whose twin brother Devin also is a member of the Patriots’ defensive backfield, certainly can speak from experience after four of his teammates tested positive: quarterback Cam Newton was the first to be diagnosed with Covid-19 on October 2, followed by practice squad defensive tackle Bill Murray and cornerback Stephon Gilmore a few days later. On late Saturday, finally, defensive tackle Byron Cowart tested positive as well.
Newton’s positive test prompted the Patriots’ facilities at Gillette Stadium to shut down — something that has happened two more times since — but the team eventually did return and take on the Kansas City Chiefs just three days later. The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills, has defended the decision to play the game, despite Gilmore testing positive just one day after New England’s trip to Missouri.
“We actually had four days of testing — it was Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday — and we also took the additional step to review the video from inside the Patriots facility to look at the compliance with mask-wearing,” Dr. Sills said last week. “What we found there was the compliance was very high. ... That gave us some comfort — given the fact of no additional positive tests, given the compliance of the team, and given the way the close contacts were labeled — that we could move forward.”
Moving forward appears to be the NFL’s primary concern at this point in time, although one does have to wonder how this process will look like: after Byron Cowart’s positive test, the league had to shuffle its schedule quite a bit by moving seven games around and changing the bye weeks for six of its clubs. Players such as McCourty, meanwhile, will be asked to adapt.