As excited as we’re all getting for this year’s NFL draft—especially one that promises to be less predictable than usual, thanks to the alleged lack of festering scout groupthink—does this whole exercise feel strange to anyone else?
The moral arguments have been well defined. One side, led by Roger Goodell himself, views the draft as a much-needed distraction for a cooped-up public barraged with a stream of news that, on a given day, could range from unsettling to horrifying. (Plus, you know, money.) The other side believes that all of these resources could be put to better use; that it’s silly for prospects to invite even the smallest gathering of supposedly noninfected people into their homes; that it’s unfair to the kids who got overlooked by the combine, suffered injury issues that couldn’t be rehabbed under normal circumstances or posed questions that could not be answered in personal meetings; that it sucks for the teams that won’t have their full war room on draft night or all of the information normally at their disposal (and so on and so on).
Chances are you come down on one side or the other.
Forget that for a moment, though. The more information we get about our near future, and the more public officials talk about the difficulty with which the country will be reopened, how much thought has been given to the possibility that the players drafted this week may not actually take the field for a long, long time? And, if that’s the case, why rush a process that is adversely affecting certain players?
Last week, the mayor of Los Angeles said the city might not see public sporting events until 2021. Multiple highly skilled medical and disease professionals told Sports Illustrated a week before that without a vaccine it is incredibly unlikely that we’ll see a massive “on” switch for professional sports. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, on a recent conference call with reporters, sounded pessimistic at best about the prospect of restarting the season. We may not even be at the point where we fully understand the pandemic’s reach, given the lack of available testing.
If you don’t have any confidence in the truly dystopian sanitary-bubble theory getting implemented by Major League Baseball and adopted by the NFL, what recent developments would give you any confidence that football is starting on time? Why is one sport plugging its ears, closing its eyes and tiptoeing around a minefield while the rest of the country is forcing itself to accept the reality that the world as we know it will not be the same for quite some time?
I am the first person to admit that, despite all my feelings on the matter, the draft will feel like a spiritual lift on Thursday night. Over the last month, I’ve traversed every possible jogging path in my neighborhood, read through a stack of months-old periodicals and watched so many episodes of Beachfront Bargain Hunt that my wife and I can identify the prospective homebuyers the moment they appear on the screen. Seeing that we were barreling toward the end of Netflix’s collection of Great British Bake Off episodes produced a twinge of dread. What the hell are we gonna do now?
But I wonder whether having the draft now is akin to emptying your liquor cabinet in a single night. The morning after hangover, the realization that football and the rest of the sporting world are still lightyears away will hit us like a brick. And most of us are not the horde of undrafted free agents, small-school prospects and players with an injury history who will not get any escape from watching this at all. For them, the draft will be just another reminder of how upside down the world is at the moment. Most of us are not the players and coaches who will continue to orbit in this strange football purgatory.
Maybe it’s worth the risk. Maybe we’re all at the point where viable distractions are like the last bottle of hand soap or toilet paper sitting on a barren store shelf. You grab it. You move on. You chalk up that day as a win. But maybe, just maybe, forced normalcy for the sake of normalcy only prolongs what we all seem to know deep down and refuse to acknowledge.
• Question or comment? Email us.