While pro sports leagues have already resumed play in other parts of the world, the United States is still reeling from the current Coronavirus pandemic and has not seen one of its major leagues reopen in full after play was suspended in late March. The NFL is no exception, even though it is currently in its offseason anyway: players have not been allowed to return to team facilities despite the league presenting protocols to do so and already allowing coaching staffs and other personnel back in the buildings.
If the current plan holds up, however, players and coaches will be back once training camps open in late July: the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans will report on July 25, due to their status as the teams playing the season opener, with the other teams following suit three days later. Among those are the New England Patriots, who have been in the same situation as other clubs given that their facilities were closed down and no players (and not the entire coaching staff) have returned to work yet.
That all should change in a little more than a month, but there is skepticism given that more and more players are tested positive for Covid-19. Devin McCourty voiced his concerns during the latest episode of the Double Coverage podcast he shares with his twin brother and fellow Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty.
“I think everybody’s nervous, because the norm is that we just go to work — we put in a lot of work, we bond together, we lift, we’re in close quarters. It feels like that’s all being taken away from us, so I don’t know how to react. I don’t know what’s it’s going to be,” the team captain said. “I love how a lot of players’ attention has been on what’s going on outside of football — and I think we’ll continue to do that — but figuring out football, to me, seems to be the hardest thing right now. I don’t know if we’ll figure it out, honestly.”
While the Patriots have not yet had any reported positive cases within their organization, other teams have seen an increase in the past few days. Several players with the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans have tested positive, according to reports, as have members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers’ cases are especially worrisome considering that some of the team’s players were working out together — prompting the NFLPA to advise its members against privately organized workout sessions.
“It’s kind of scary because something like that, I think it was probably just offense, so they probably had maybe 10 guys out there,” Jason said about San Francisco’s workout and the ensuing spike in Covid-19 cases. “When you think about the future, if it’s hard for 10 guys just to get together to do little passing drills or anything of that nature, to think about somewhere between 53 and 90 guys in a training camp, it’s going to be insane. So I don’t know how that’s going to turn out.”
Despite its protocols, the league has yet to figure out how to conduct business over the course of the summer with the Coronavirus hanging over its collective head. Some measures like the aforementioned return protocols as well as the cancelation of joint training camp practices have already been taken, while others such as a shortening of preseason to possibly moving the regular season back or shortening appear to be other options the NFL and NFLPA could think about.
One more controversial plan, meanwhile, was isolating the players similar to how the NBA, WNBA and MLS plan to finish their respective 2020 campaigns. The league has come out against it, after Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is currently leading the White House Coronavirus Task Force as one of the country’s leading immunologists, recently talked about how “it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall” unless players are put in a bubble.
The McCourty Twins, however, came out against such a radical idea.
“I think it’s very different for football,” Jason said. “You think about training camp, there’s 90 guys on the team. Not only are there 90 guys, but there’s a coaching staff usually made up of maybe 15 to 20 [...] and there are so many other football-essential personnel that are in the building. You’re talking about 32 teams with over 100 members that you have to house; I don’t know if it’s really fathomable for the NFL to be able to go in a bubble.”
“I just can’t see me stepping away from my family for that amount of time,” added Devin. “We have training camp kind of in a month and a half, so we haven’t heard until now. The days start counting down. You might be telling your wife with a week’s notice that you’re gone for six months. To me, that would be very tough. If that is on the table, I think that needs to be discussed sooner than later for guys to be able to make that decision.”
“Beyond that, I don’t really know,” Jason said. “Me, personally, I don’t want to ever say never, but I can’t anticipate me being away from the family for that long throughout the entirety of the season. That would be insane. It would feel like forever.”