Albert Breer: The NFL Needs to Tone Down its Optimism About the 2020 Season

Albert Breer

I understand the reasoning.

The NFL is a business. One that generates 11-figure revenue numbers annually. It didn’t get there without prioritizing the bottom line, nor did its owners accumulate the wealth to buy teams by failing to find opportunity to profit around every corner.

So free agency went on as planned. So the draft will too. So on Tuesday, NFL EVP and general counsel Jeff Pash painted perhaps the most optimistic picture of the COVID-19 pandemic that any of us have seen anywhere in weeks.

“We’re pretty confident we’ll be able to start on schedule,” Pash said.

And that was only doubling down on what he’d asserted earlier in the conference call.

“On the season itself, our planning, our expectation is fully directed at playing a full season, starting on schedule and having a full regular season and a full set of playoffs, just as we did in 2019,” he said. “We take our guidance from the medical people, from [NFL chief medical officer] Dr. [Allen] Sills from [NFLPA chief medical officer] Dr. [Thomas] Mayer, from the outside consultants in infectious diseases, and from the CDC.”

Again, I understand why. The NFL has partners, sponsors and advertisers to worry about. Just as it’s a scary time for you and me, it’s a scary time for big business. Spending isn’t going to be what it was. Institutions with long-standing relationships in the pro football community are going to have to pick their spots for the foreseeable future.

Pash is speaking to them: We got you. We’re going to be America’s escape. We’re planning on it. And we want you to be a part of it. There’s nowhere your money will be safer. Because there will be football, and America will be eating it up when it gets her

The idea matches up perfectly with the decision to go forward with the new league year, which was, at the very least, an opportunistic move to pull in a captive audience, and the forceful nature with which they’re pushing ahead with the draft, which is, well, the same. It’s who they are, and how they got where they are, and so it’s not that hard to figure out what they’re doing here.

But someone, anyone, at some point, should’ve raised their hand and asked the same question that could’ve saved the NFL a lot of trouble over the last decade, in countless scandals that made pro football look like a ruthless circus: Are we doing the right thing?

Given the circumstances we’re all facing, I personally don’t think it’s right to threaten coaches or executives not to speak out about the problems, both human and football-wise, with keeping the draft scheduled for the end of April, as the NFL did last week. I’m also not sure it’s right to tell a society that needs to be taking every precaution possible—and needs to be treating this international crisis as something that will get a lot worse if we don’t—that everything’s going to be just fine in a few months.

And maybe the NFL didn’t mean for it to come off that way. But it did.

Which is a problem, and one that was completely avoidable, if someone in the office had just asked that very simple question of right and wrong.