As the NFL and its players continue on a collision course over the nature of the return to play during the COVID-19 pandemic, one notable player provided a compelling example of why players are so anxious and wary about returning.
On Friday, Whitworth appeared on a media conference call hosted by multiple NFLPA leaders and explained, in detail, how the coronavirus affected his family.
"When we say you're gonna have to make good decisions and you're gonna have to be careful outside of the building, we're talking about things as simple as going to lunch with someone,” Whitworth said. “All it takes is one exposure, and that's the reality and my story is an example of that.”
Whitworth says a family member recently went to lunch with a friend, and a couple days later, that family member started to feel unwell and ended up taking a COVID-19 test.
"Next thing we know, she had it,” Whitworth said. “A couple days later, my wife and I had it. A couple days after that, my kids had it. So we were about 7-for-7 at that point, and then unfortunately, we had just visited my wife's family, and we were traveling with them as well, and her mom and dad both got it."
Some studies have shown that older people have had a harder time kicking the virus than younger people, and Whitworth said that proved to be the case in this instance as he, his wife and his children ended up being OK — “Everything seemed to go pretty normal, it was a pretty mild case,” he said — but for her parents, it wasn’t that way as his father-in-law was hospitalized.
"Luckily for us … we got him home about four or five days ago and he's home with us now and we're very blessed to have him and him be OK,” Whitworth said. “But it was definitely a scary thing and I realized how contagious this really is. It doesn't take much, and it can spread like wildfire.”
Hence the union’s insistence on player safety. NFLPA president and Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter and union executive director DeMaurice Smith said this is the primary concern of the organization, even before dealing with the lingering salary-cap issues with the scheduled start of training camp happening later this month.
Tretter, an offensive lineman, also brought up the personal stake he has in this matter, not just as a union president but also as a person with a high body mass index, which has led to complications in some infected with the coronavirus. He stressed the importance of “risk mitigation.”
“I’m a center, so I’m living it — this time more than any, I have a very dangerous job, not just what normal football is like but with what’s going on in the world,” Tretter said. “My job, especially, has gotten more dangerous.”
You can pull up any picture from a December game and see how much breath is being blown back and forth between linemen, Tretter noted, a concern considered how the virus is transmitted.
“[That’s] what’s going to be going on if sick individuals are involved in the offensive or defensive line or any player,” Tretter said. “Those are the really tough decisions that we continue to ask on to try to get those protocols right, and that’s why the health safety aspect is so important to this.
“Because we all are at risk, our families are at risk, and different positions are maybe even more so at risk. Combining that with the CDC guidelines of what underlying conditions make you more vulnerable — with high body-mass index — now you’re looking at a player who is more exposed and has an underlying condition, those are the questions guys have to understand.”
In that regard, Smith noted the NFLPA is pushing for daily testing.
While there is much left to work out between the league and its players, Smith added that fans who want to see football in the fall can also play their part.
“Something as simple as wearing a mask will have, probably, the most significant impact on the extent and whether sport returns in this country,” Smith said. “And that’s not a political statement; that’s a common sense and scientific statement.”
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