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NFLPA president J.C. Tretter: NFL must make decisions with ‘medical lens’

JC Tretter #64 of the Cleveland Browns plays against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Details for the start of NFL training camps remain vague, and the NFL and its players’ union are in the middle of a debate about whether the preseason, which the league cut from four to two games, should be played at all.

It’s a matter of nailing down coronavirus testing protocols while protecting players who were unable to go through offseason routines, their practice facilities and even personal gyms shut down due to the pandemic.

Cleveland Browns center and NFLPA president J.C. Tretter told the Doug & Wolf show Thursday on Arizona Sports that his union wants the NFL to treat the upcoming season through a “medical lens” rather than eyeing something close to normalcy.

“Every decision you make this year that decides to stand with normalcy of what has always gone on versus what should go on during a pandemic — if you make a decision based on normalcy, it’s going to cause a more likelihood that we don’t get through the season,” Tretter said.

“We’ve yet to get a medical reason as to why we’d play two preseason games or preseason games at all that don’t count in the standings, that just risk something happening that just shuts the season down.”

The league previously requested that players report to camp earlier than July 28 to give them more acclimation time for strength and conditioning because they held no formal workouts or team minicamps. But the union declined.

Last week, the NFL cut the preseason from four games to two and pushed back the start of exhibition play an extra week to give teams more time to prepare.

In a letter for the NFLPA website, Tretter said that the union consulted medical experts that recommended a 48-day training camp schedule. Data from the 2011 lockout, he said Thursday, showed “a 25% jump in injuries, 45% jump in hamstring injuries … and more than double the amount of Achilles injuries.”

“For the most part we’ve worked well together,” Tretter said. “Now we have to start getting to the big issues of how football operates this year. I think player safety is something that can’t be negotiated on. There’s no choice but to keep players safe because it’s a win-win for everybody.

“It’s not something that should have to be a fight. It’s in everybody’s best interest to make decisions to keep players healthy throughout the season.”

The two sides have not grappled over many issues until this month. They finalized the protocols regarding team travel, media and treatment response, and have also updated the facilities protocol to specifically address training camp based on recommendations from a joint committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches formed by the league and players’ union.

A league official told The Associated Press that Tretter’s comments were “disheartening” to read because “we’ve been working in good faith.”

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the league doesn’t want to engage in a public dispute similar to the contentious discussions between Major League Baseball and its players’ union.

“It’s not constructive. We’d rather do this face to face,” the person told the AP. “The committee understood the utility of playing one or two preseason games to get players ready for game-day conditions, which you can’t simulate playing against yourselves, and also to practice the protocols. We will continue working together.”

Tretter is confident the two sides can aim for a regular 16-game season and updated playoff format. But he does not believe the NFL has given good reason to move ahead with preseason games. He wants proper testing protocols to be in place, a chore considering MLB has found its testing amid a resumption of practices this week slowed, scattered in time and questionable with conflicting results.

Asked Thursday if he’s confident the 16-game NFL season will happen, Tretter remained optimistic.

“It’s a tough question to answer, and I think that’s what we want,” he said. “We want to get through an entire season. There needs to be the ability to evolve and constantly evolve. We can’t get stuck in our ways.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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