An announcement Tuesday by the player leadership of first the Denver Broncos and then the Seattle Seahawks created a large headline but one that is truly meaningless.
That headline bellowed that players from those teams “WILL NOT SHOW UP FOR VOLUNTARY WORKOUTS” without some sort of agreed upon Covid protocols in place. It was implied that players from others will soon follow their lead.
To which I say, “So what?”
Why is it a headline story that someone has decided not to show up for something they don’t have to show up for? Only in the self-important world of the NFL and its players is this BREAKING NEWS!
The definition of the adjective “voluntary” is the following: “done, given, or acting of one's own free will.” In other words, if you don’t show up to something that’s voluntary it is hardly, as one Yahoo Sports’ article put it, “a drastic step.” Drastic step not to do something you don’t have to do?
Does that mean if I don’t volunteer to mow the lawn this weekend I’ve taken a “drastic step?” I don’t think so.
Certainly insisting upon a safe and healthy workplace is a wise idea, and the NFL Players Association should indeed be doing that. Why management and the NFLPA have been as yet unable to agree upon acceptable protocols for off-season workouts seems odd but also typical. Management wants to return to how things used to be, and the NFLPA wants there to be no offseason programs other than virtual ones as they had a year ago in the midst of the pandemic. Is there no such thing as a happy medium with these two sides? Ever?
Last season the NFL had Covid protocols in abundance covering nearly every practice and game eventuality, and things went surprisingly smoothly. The union is insisting part of the reason for that is the offseason program was never in-person, only virtual, and it wants to make that permanent. So this is not about the workouts set to begin next Monday. It’s about OTAs and mini-camps in June because the truth is that offseason workouts in April and May are VOLUNTARY. Anyone who feels unsafe, lazy or otherwise occupied is free to stay away.
NFLPA president J.C. Tretter of the Cleveland Browns urged management last December to make the protocols used last offseason permanent, but the league wants more structure (i.e. they want to keep their eyes on their employees as much as possible). In March, Tretter told reporters, “The NFL doesn’t get to decide when the pandemic is over, or when we get to stop caring about COVID. Our guys can still get it. They don’t want to make themselves vulnerable to that during unnecessary practices in the springtime.”
He raises a fair point. But the larger point is they don’t have to come, so whether the league has adopted protocols to their satisfaction or not doesn’t put them at risk until such time as they are forced by contract to attend team mini-camps in June. Then it’s wildcat strike time, I guess, if they still feel their concerns have not been addressed.
The other possibility, of course, is that all players get themselves vaccinated before attending workouts. This is not a radical notion, nor is it too much to ask. In some cases, surely it will be, though, because vaccination phobia is, as the kids would say, “a thing” these days.
The league did counter the moves by the Broncos and Seahawks Tuesday by saying everyone BUT the players needs to be vaccinated to work directly with those players unless they have medical or religious reasons not to do so. Not sure what the religious reason would be, but I’m sure there are some ... although one can assume that will be a very small group.
The league wants its players “voluntarily’’ working out starting next Monday, many believing the absence of such workouts a year ago hurt the level of play and resulted in more early season injuries. If that’s the case, then why hasn’t management come up with agreeable protocols with the union?
Maybe because the owners want to see their employees as often as they can while knowing they don’t have to work out with them? Or maybe because the union wants to be able to tell players it won a concession that will keep them away from club facilities and hollering strength coaches until training camp in July? Neither has anything really to do with Covid-19 and everything to do with power and control of the workplace.
The pandemic is far from over. That is clear from its growing spread in some areas of the country, such as Michigan, at a rate nearly as daunting as a year ago. Players have every right to be concerned and to demand safety protocols in place before they return to work. But announcing they will not attend workouts they don’t have to attend seems like a case of jumping the shark.
NFL players have plenty of things to fight with management about, and come June one of them will be assuring proper safety protocols for in-person workouts are in place if management insists on going through with them. Until then they have a less confrontational road they can follow: Look up the meaning of voluntary and then go do what they want, when they want and where they want. And one of those things, if they’re truly concerned with their health, might be to go get vaccinated.