SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon connected with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to get the union’s response on Tom Brady and Russell Wilson’s impromptu practices with teammates. An act they strongly discouraged prior to Training Camp.
Tom Brady might just ruin it for everybody.
Brady continues to flout the NFL Players Association’s recommendation against group workouts, hosting Camp Brady for his new Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates in a state where COVID-19 cases continue to spike. That this puts everyone at those workouts at risk is a given.
But he also could be jeopardizing the health and safety of players around the league for months to come.
“Those practices are not in the best interest of player safety,” NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith told USA TODAY Sports when asked about the group workouts. “They’re not in the best interest of protecting our players heading into training camp. And I don’t think they are in the best interest of us getting through an entire season.”
This goes beyond potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. Smith told USA TODAY Sports that the NFLPA is still negotiating with the NFL on how positive cases will be handled. Does a player go on injured reserve? Will there be a special injured list? If someone tests positive after training camp, are they eligible for workers’ compensation? What benefits would be available?
These are questions with ramifications, potentially serious ones, for every NFL player, and the last thing Brady, Matthew Stafford or any of the quarterbacks still holding group workouts should want is to put another player’s health and livelihood at risk – now or in the future.
“All of the things that players may want to do during the off-season have a direct impact on how well we can negotiate protections for them once the season starts,” Smith said. “When you look at the risk factors for COVID-19 — high (body mass index), sleep apnea, asthma, players that are prone to blood clots — that’s our membership.
“For some of the players who’ve practiced,” Smith added, “we’ve made sure they’ve heard the message.”
But have they really?
After one of the San Francisco 49ers who’d been working out with teammates in Nashville tested positive for COVID-19, the NFLPA said that group workouts should stop.
“It is our consensus medical opinion that in light of the increase in COVID-19 cases in certain states that no players should be engaged in practicing together in private workouts,” Dr. Thom Mayer, the NFLPA’s medical director, said in a statement last Saturday.
“We are working on the best mitigation procedures at team facilities for both training camps and the upcoming season, and believe that it is in the best interest of all players that we advise against any voluntary joint practices before training camp commences.”
The NFLPA can’t actually stop players from doing anything, and I’m guessing no team executive or agent foresaw the need to put a pandemic clause in anyone’s contract. But Mayer’s statement sent the clearest message possible that players working out together, without protocols established by medical professionals, is a really bad idea.
And yet, Brady has continued to do it.
Brady has always had some, uh, interesting beliefs when it comes to health and workouts. And by interesting, I mean resembling snake oil. But it’s one thing for him to gamble with his own health by taking TB12’s new supplement to boost his immune system and quite another to gamble with his teammates’ health.
Brady has six Super Bowl rings and is arguably the greatest quarterback the game has seen. Even if he assures his teammates the group workouts are “voluntary,” is a second-year receiver really going to feel he can say no? Will a player on the bubble or fighting for a starting spot feel compelled to participate for fear there will be repercussions if he doesn’t?
These aren’t just conditioning drills, either. These are full-scale workouts for a contact sport. In one of the photos Brady posted, he’s in shoulder pads and has his helmet.
“He’s telling us the full play call,” Buccaneers running back Dare Ogunbowale said in an interview with CBS Sports Radio. “He’s doing his cadence as if we were in a game. He’s doing adjustments, doing the hots and sights. With a guy like him, it’s really easy to kind of be building chemistry and kind of emulating that whole practice environment.”
It is understandable that Brady wants to get a jump on the season. After 20 years with the New England Patriots, he signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. For the first time since he was a rookie, he’s going into a season blind.
He needs to learn Tampa Bay’s system and its personnel, and his new teammates need to learn him. They all have to build chemistry. But OTAs have been scrapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, players aren’t allowed in team facilities except for injury rehab and you can only get to “know” people so much over Zoom.
Good as Brady’s intentions are with the workouts, they’re simply too big a risk. For everyone in the NFL.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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