As we get closer to the start of football season, more players at both the professional and collegiate levels are deciding to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the coronavirus.
By Thursday’s 4 p.m. deadline, 67 NFL players had decided not to play this season. A coalition of hundreds of Pac-12 players are boycotting all college football activities unless the NCAA meets their demands for better health and safety protocols; agrees to name, image and likeness compensation and a revenue-sharing model; and addresses issues of systemic racism and economic inequality. Players in other conferences have also banded together to collectively request health and safety rules for the upcoming campaign.
We’ll discuss that in detail on this week’s episode of the Week In Review podcast with Albert Breer, Jenny Vrentas and Mitch Goldich. Below is an excerpt from our episode on NFL prospects opting out of the 2020 season. Subscribe to the MMQB’s suite of podcasts to have them all delivered right to your phone each week.
Albert Breer: I mean, I just think it’s fascinating. Well, first of all, the kids that have come out so far are really, really, really, highly regarded guys. And so, some of the teams I’ve talked to are sort of waiting for the kid who shouldn’t—I shouldn’t say ‘shouldn’t’ because they’re such deeply personal decisions. But the kid who maybe comes out thinking he’s like a first- or second-round pick who’s actually not. So I know there’s some concern that that’s going to happen at some point. But the kids who’ve come out and declared so far, Caleb Farley from Virginia Tech, Micah Parsons from Penn State and Rashod Bateman from Minnesota. All three of those kids are probably top half of the first round types of guys who you can certainly understand the risk-reward ratio there. I just think it’s interesting because they each have their own reasons, you know. Caleb Farley, I thought, to me it was just sort of it’s like the mess of college sports right now, like where, you know, I talked to Lincoln Riley over the weekend and he mentioned how they didn’t go back until a month after they were allowed to. And everybody’s got to wear masks everywhere, and he’s relying on his doctors. On the flip side of it, you got Caleb Farley coming out and saying, oh, “It was the Wild West at Virginia Tech.” And so it’s sort of interesting to hear how this is being handled in a very different way from school to school. And it’s sort of… I think it colors the amount of work that the NFL put in. In the whatever it was—five, six weeks ahead of training camp and making sure that they had uniform rules. Because that would probably be what it would look like if they didn’t, you know, like where it would be. If these were team-by-team decisions on setting policies, I mean, man, could you imagine what that would be like from one team to the next? It’d probably be completely different from say, and I don’t know, I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus here, but from one team to the next.
Jenny Vrentas: And that’s the power of having the players union because you have a body that’s representing your rights as workers, which is where college athletes are just in a very difficult spot. You know, they’re coming together, which has been really admirable and awesome to see groups of players in conferences, come together and take a stand. But that’s not a prescripted part of the way things work. It’s not just baked into it. They have to go out of their way, make that happen, it’s an additional task to take on. And so I think that certainly the calculation for college players is a lot more difficult now. And no matter what sport or what level you’re playing at, I’m still just going to be a little bit uncomfortable with the fact that, the decisions are different for different people. And there’s probably a lot of players, whether it’s in the NFL or especially in college, who feel like they can’t opt out for whatever reason. And so it’s great to see players making that choice and feeling like they have the ability to make the choice. At the same time, I think of other people who feel for whatever reason, that they can’t opt out, even though they might not feel 100% safe.
AB: Yeah, I mean, it’s probably reflective of America, too, right? I would say, in a lot of different workplaces, probably like that, where people who are higher in the food chain, more established, are probably more free to take the precautions as they see fit versus somebody lower in the food chain who feels like, ‘If I stay away from the office for the next two months, there may not be a job for me when I come back.’ You know, and I think that’s probably for like at the college level, certainly. I think in the pros, too, like there’s probably a lot of that going on. And we should be clear, right. We’re taping this just ahead of the deadline, so we don’t have all the opt-outs right now. But certainly, Jenny, I mean, it was interesting seeing Tre’davious White say what he said, and he revealed some personal stuff on Twitter this morning. And I thought that was interesting because it’s great that he felt free to do that. It’s awesome that he’s empowered to use his voice. It’s also important to remember that he’s like top five in the league at his position. So part of the reason that he can do that, and part of the reason that he is probably free more than the next guy would be to make a decision like that, is because of the sort of player he is.
JV: Yeah, and then on the flip side, he gets more criticism because of that. And I think that’s really the ugly side of fandom that we’re seeing. That’s what he referenced in his post. Getting a lot of hateful comments for his decision.
Editor’s Note: After this podcast was recorded, White decided to play this season despite his concerns.
AB: But it’s good to use that, though. Right, Jenny? If you think about that, because how many guys are getting those sorts of comments? And he’s got the power to push back. So when he says it, maybe it kind of illuminates, because he’s got the leverage to say something like that. Maybe it illuminates the situation that everybody’s in, and people are going to listen to him because he is a bigger name.
JV: Yeah. That’s true.
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