COVID-19 Reminds Us Our Fates Are All Tied Together

DeMaurice Smith reflects on the legacy of the late Congressman John Lewis, and reminds us of how COVID-19 is more proof that we are all in this together. He also writes about how the union makes decisions about how to proceed amidst the pandemic.
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With Albert Breer on vacation, we have guest columnists filling in for his Monday Morning Quarterback column. Check out last week’s piece, co-written by twin brothers and New England Patriots teammates Devin and Jason McCourty. Today’s guest columnist is DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA.

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This MMQB column is about the legacy of Congressman John Lewis and what he still means for our country. It is also about why sports, those blessed to be a part of them and those who profess to love them, have to decide that they fit within a larger story of a country that has aspired to be great since protestors tossed tea into the Boston Harbor.

We have two stark choices. In the near future, tomorrow, we can emerge stronger and smarter as a country if we decide that we will confront the reality of our history and our present. Or, as some have done, we can collectively cling to a more comfortable alternate reality that allows for an easier and more strident feeling that is consistent with what you do not want to think about or the prejudices that you do not want to talk about openly. Clearly, there are many in power and influence who have made people feel better about doing the latter.

Congressman Lewis, who died on Friday, chose a righteous path before the beating of the Freedom Riders happened, and he therefore had the capacity to both fight and forgive. I am reminded often of his grace when, decades into the future, a member of the KKK apologized to him and others for their violence and hatred. Therein lies the hopeful past, present and future greatness of our country. It is fantasy to ignore division, but there is no escaping responsibility to each other, and he always chose to give us hope. All of us become greater by embracing the reality of a joined fate that we have as Americans.

We are now engaged in a new fight against a virus that confirms how our fates are tied. We have lost nearly 150,000 Americans to a pandemic that is still raging with no end in sight. We can hope for things to come, but we must act to save each other.

This reality is no less true when it comes to the business and sport of football. Our fates—players, management, staff, fans—are bound together, and this union took action in the face of danger. We chose a different course than some others when I decided in mid-March to retain some of the best and the brightest epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists and researchers to assist our medical team and help guide our Executive Committee and Board of Player Representatives in the face of an emerging reality that threatened our workers, our business and our sport.

I understand that some wanted quick answers and quick decisions, but I also know that the best answers do not come quickly. We learned back in March that with a novel and emerging coronavirus there was much we would need to learn. We built a framework and negotiated with the NFL in a way to allow it to dictate what we believed would be the best fluid and responsive course of action based on how the virus operated and, equally important, how the country responded as a whole and in specific geographic areas.

There are no simple answers, but there is no room for ignorance. There are no miracle cures and thus, no room for baseless conspiracy theories. We are in a time when everyone has an opinion, but when lives are on the line there should be no equivalence of these opinions with those whom Dr. Anthony Fauci rightly says, have a “track record of telling the truth, who have a track record of giving information and policy and recommendations based on scientific evidence and good data.”

It is clear that some people want to feel better about their own beliefs but that has never made those feelings right, real or the best course for all of our safety and lasting freedoms.

We are once again on the cusp of opening training camps and the focus from our fans is on what is going to happen during the next few weeks. Will we have training camps? Are we going to start the season on time? Will we have fans in the stadiums? Our players are asking many of the same questions and our union leadership will continue to ask the right questions, find the right answers and insist on the accountability to workers that every union fights for when it bargains with management.

The questions we all have: What will happen in two days, much less two months? When is it safe to go back to work? Am I as safe as possible at my job site? Will our kids go back to a college campus or elementary school? Will they be as safe as possible? Is my state going to shut back down? The most important answer we start with is always: Do we have the right process and people in place to both answer these questions and engage in the difficult decisions to achieve the best results for everyone?

The good news for us and our players is that despite the novel and emerging nature of COVID-19, they have a union of player leaders and expert staff who have their backs. Since March, we have been advocating for the best standards to keep our players safe and get paid. As an example, we changed to a virtual offseason that was the culmination of collaboration by experts, strong advocacy by player leaders and yes, leadership from the NFL.

These expert recommendations will continue, as will the relentless involvement and advocacy of our Executive Committee led by our president JC Tretter, our board and star players who have rightly carried the torch on behalf of all players. I am proud of them for using their voices and platforms for the collective good. There will still be tough decisions and perfect problems with imperfect solutions. We know that the NFL has the right to set reporting dates, open the season and close the season in the same way that any business owner has this right.

What our union has done though, is put in clear and strong health and safety checklists to keep our men and their families as safe as possible. This is how we hold management accountable to the operating protocols and other agreements we pushed for to start our season. It is a simple fact, which I am encouraged the NFL believes to be true as well, that the old ways of doing this work will have to change given the reality of a virus that can, has and will continue to harm us.

Finally, for all the things we still do not know and are learning about the virus, we do know that transmission is the enemy. Wearing a mask helps prevent that in a way that real Americans and real fans should want to embrace in order to get everyone back into stadiums, all of our workers back to improving our economy and all of us returning back to normal.

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BEST OF THE INTERNET

I know Albert's usual column format includes The Best of the Internet and items he's following outside of football, so here are some links I recommend.

1. I finished John Barry’s Book 'The Great Influenza' in late March and while there are abundant lessons, here are my takeaways: Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.

2. Whether it was the civil rights movement of my parents’ generation, the black power movement slightly ahead of my generation or the power behind the Black Lives Matter movement today, there needs to be coherent, spiritual and philosophical thought and understanding. James Cone and Howard Thurman have been my touchstones for decades. Here's an article from 2019 called 'Revisiting the Legacy of Howard Thurman, the Mystic of the Civil Rights Movement.'

3. I am so proud of my law school classmate.

4. Cape Town, South Africa is confounding. A truly beautiful place, with a wonderfully diverse group of people, whom are inextricably tied by the horrors of apartheid and the decision to confront their past with hope. It is one of the greatest experiments in redemption that continues today.

5. Why herd immunity doesn't work, from the Republican Governor of Mississippi

6. Final proof of why you need to wear a mask

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