DAN BICKLEY

NFL moves forward, undeterred by COVID-19 ahead of fascinating season

Sep 9, 2020, 7:09 PM
(Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

The NFL is about to go live. On time. Undeterred. Like the train in “The Polar Express.”

Please don’t touch the emergency brake.

Don’t be afraid, either. Risk-sharing and extreme dedication are very common in this sport. Professional football players are truly gladiators, not just tired clichés. They risk their lives on a weekly basis, and long before the pandemic of 2020.

This is nothing new to them, and partly why we love them so much.

The NFL is built on the terrain of rugged mythology, on the backs of tough guys and streetfighters. Al Capone’s thugs once filled the stands at Chicago Cardinals games. Ex-Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa was allegedly buried under the Meadowlands in New Jersey. This is not a sport that will bend the knee for an invisible opponent like COVID-19.

More to the point:

Over 15,000 fans will be attending the Chiefs’ game Thursday night in Kansas City inside a pandemic. At a time when Phase 2 was supposedly plotting its return in cold-weather cities. It’s fascinating how few medical experts are condemning the NFL for staging such a non-essential public spectacle.

It’s because they all know what we all know.

The NFL will not be muted or marginalized, squashed or shut down. It is more religion than sport. It is the Great American Campfire, and we all gather around. It’s our country’s psychological anchor, and without it, we are all adrift.

It’s too important to pause and too big to fail. It is the hill we will all die on.

So grab a plate. The upcoming season looks delicious:

Tom Brady, Bruce Arians and Rob Gronkowski in Tampa. Cam Newton and Bill Belichick in New England. Philip Rivers in Indianapolis. Encore performances from Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. The NFC West. The collaboration of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. The last stand of David Johnson. Emboldened players seeking to do their part for Black Lives Matter, expanding the platform pushed by their NBA brethren. Messages stenciled in end zones and the inevitable political collisions.

The latter is already happening on the college level. Arms are still being twisted in the Big Ten, a conference pressured to return to the gridiron immediately. A Penn State doctor suddenly changing his mind on myocarditis, claiming he was misunderstood. A Division II football player was reported dead from COVID-19, only to have the university redact and retract its cause of death.

Conspiracy theories have been constructed from far less. Do you think anything is going to stop the NFL?

We are more than witnesses. We are accomplices. We rationalize football because it’s the ultimate meritocracy. Because Americans love their tough guys, drawn to displays of heroic strength and uncommon valor. And because the NFL helps explain who we really are, and not the watered-down, PG-version they peddle in grade school.

We win at all costs. We love high-stakes poker and high-speed collisions. We are a bloodthirsty audience that appreciates violence in sports. We also love to gamble, smoke pre-game victory cigars and jump on any cause that encourages us to get drunk before noon on the weekends.

Here’s a social experiment: Go find an open parking lot on a serene Sunday morning. Unfold a chair, plug in a television set and start pounding beers. In most zip codes, the police will arrive within minutes; family members will be calling Alcoholics Anonymous; and close friends will be staging emergency interventions.

In the NFL, they call it tailgating.

So buckle up. This is going to be great. This going to get weird. The Year 2020 is about to take on the NFL. The unstoppable force finally meets the immovable object.

That’s why God made chinstraps and mouthguards. America wouldn’t have it any other way.

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