I don’t want to spend the first half of this article talking about the reasons we’re in this situation, so I’ll make it short. America is a nation of dumb babies who believe being asked to wear fabric less than a millimeter thick over their faces is some intolerable infringement upon their freedom. We’re a self-parodying people who are eating ourselves, and we won’t stop until we’re our own poop.
Now that we’ve covered that, this is actually purely about the football implications of the pandemic that will definitely not be even a little under control upon the NFL’s scheduled kickoff date because, again, we’re a dumb baby nation of dumb babies.
Football players want to play in 2020, because of course they do. Money is a big factor there, obviously. But it’s also largely competitiveness, which is why athletes wanting to play shouldn’t really be a factor in deciding whether or not they do right now.
Anyone who has even a cheap off-brand version of the competitive nature that a pro athlete has knows it’s less a trait and more a toxic, all-consuming entity that takes complete control over you in exchange for making you better at defeating your opponents. The absolute best thing about The Last Dance was its depiction of this.
Asking someone who is ultra-competitive if they want to play is like me asking my dog if she wants to go for a walk. It could be raining fire and flesh-melting acid outside, and she’s still going to spin in circles and pee herself when she hears “Walk?” If I then take her for a walk and we come back charcoal skeletons, that’s on me.
The NFL more-or-less has three options:
1. Play out the schedule as intended, with teams traveling to play in stadiums with seats filled with ads, cardboard cutouts of fans, those creepy FOX AR fans, or stuffed animals.
2. Adopt some sort of bubble scheme that will result in retooling the schedule entirely, with teams grouped off into makeshift divisions that determine playoff seeding.
3. Just don’t have a season.
At this point, the first option feels like the worst. Baseball has already shown why it’s light-speed stupid to try and have a “normal” season during a global pandemic when literally zero of us have experienced a global pandemic before or have any idea what we’re doing. The NFL attempting to do what the MLB has already failed at doing would be signature NFL greed and hubris. So it's probably what they'll do.
The bubble option, while better than the current non-bubble plan, ultimately feels like half-hearted football for football’s sake. Still a lot of risk for what would be the most asterisk-filled season in the league’s history. A year consisting of a bunch of games that ultimately feel hollow and meaningless. At least they wouldn’t have the relentless shoe-squeak as the exclusive soundtrack of each game like the NBA, I guess.
The third, least fun option is what feels like the right one. Even for the sports that are already back. As a country, it’s is a very “you didn’t eat your greens, so you don’t get dessert” sort of not earning the return of sports. Losing sports for a year is worth having normal sports back faster. The big leagues can more than afford to not play for a year, so the panic over how to salvage their revenue streams for 2020 should be of zero concern to anyone other than themselves.
If the NFL does play, which at this point they’ll almost certainly at least try to, I’ll watch. I’ll play fantasy football. I’ll leverage this weekly personal blog masquerading as a column to secure Sundays off for the season. I’ll do almost all the things I normally do during football. That doesn’t mean I think it’s the smart move to play. It’s a level of personal hypocrisy I’m comfortable with.
Ultimately, I’d rather just not have football than even the Chiefs win the Super Bowl again. This season’s championship will always be followed by a “yeah, but.” I’m not particularly interested in bragging about a Super Bowl victory that came out of a bubble-season, which is starting to look like the only way the NFL will be able to squeeze a season in. Even then, it probably wouldn’t be an entire season. It would more likely be two-thirds of a season where 3-5 teams end up getting disqualified because of positive tests. In ten years, we won't care that we didn't have football in 2020.
Why even have sports right now? I get it, we’re desperate. Fans are desperate for their favorite thing. Players are desperate for competition and money. Leagues and owners are desperate for money, money, and money. But what’s the point if these sports are just having seasons no one will take seriously even a year from now?
We’re all pining so much for anything resembling normal. Instead of doing everything we could as a country to ensure we might be able to have that small taste, we torpedoed ourselves into the dirt for five straight months. Now we’ve got a hole to get out of just to get back to where everyone else is. Perhaps we should spend the next five months climbing instead of playing football.