The NFL is dumb

The league is failing to take care of its most valuable players

Anish Vasudevan

In a week two matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the last NFL season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sidelined after tweaking his left foot after recently recovering from a sprain.

Just five years ago, Newton, the former first overall pick in the 2011 draft, had won the league’s most valuable player award and paraded his team to the Super Bowl 50. He had solidified himself as a top-tier quarterback in the league, even earning the nickname “Superman.”

Former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

However, this offseason, Newton was released from his team. Without the ability to get cleared by an NFL team doctor or even go to team facilities, because both have been prohibited by the league due to social distancing protocols, he has yet to be picked up by another team.

Even though Newton’s future in the league is unknown, the NFL itself is thriving. With major leagues like the MLB and NBA suspending their seasons and drafts indefinitely, the NFL remains the only professional sports league in America that is continuing operations.

On March 18, 2020, with most of the country starting to shelter in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL opened its free agency, which is the start of the NFL new year where players who have finished their contracts with a team can sign with another franchise. On April 23, 2020, with COVID-19 impacts expanding throughout America, the league held its draft virtually, with picks being announced from league commissioner Roger Godell’s basement.

These virtual events were a complete cash grab for the NFL—55 million people tuned into the three day draft, with the average number of viewers increasing 35% from the year before. The NFL even used their network to showcase the release of the 2020 NFL schedule, something that hasn’t been done in past years.

But what happens to people who don’t benefit from the league’s opening? What about players like Newton who need to be cleared by doctors before even being looked at by a team? What about the hundreds of college football prospects who were not able to showcase their talents at their school’s pro day because their college campuses were closed? How do they benefit from the league being open?

In short, they don’t. While the league being open is great news for fans and the league has done its part in donating to COVID-19 relief, the fact that it’s open just doesn’t make any sense, especially when compared to other major sports leagues.

When the NBA found out about its first case of COVID-19 before the start of a game, they stopped playing and closed immediately. The English Premier League for soccer did the same. However, even though multiple players and coaches in the NFL have tested positive for the virus, with the first being New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, the league has continued its operations.

At the end of the day, these decisions were likely made for profit, since the prosperity of NFL players was clearly not taken into account. After the NFL draft, rookies are expected to head over to their team’s facilities and go through minicamps in order to get them prepared for the next season. This also gives new signees the opportunities to visit those facilities and familiarize themselves with their new teams. But with the closure of team facilities, all of these experiences are lost.

The NFL is the most popular league in America and it needs to start acting like a role model for other sports leagues. In order to show that the NFL actually cares about the wellbeing of their league, rather than how much money they can get by being one of the only sports on television, they must make changes quick.

The NFL needs to follow suit with the rest of the leagues and suspend its operations to ensure that when the league comes back, it can be stronger than ever.