The NFL is singular in how it has created a year-long calendar of events. From the start of training camp in late July to the NFL Draft later this month, the flow of content never stops. It’s truly a yearlong celebration of the sport, and a big reason why it’s the most popular league in the country. But none of this happens without the hard work of the players on the field. This may seem obvious, but somehow higher-ups in the league continue to take their hard work for granted.
Organized team activities (OTA) were set to start this week, but many players will be boycotting these workouts. Among the teams on the forefront of this movement are the Vikings, who announced their decision on Monday via the NFL Players Association.
These workouts are optional, but they are often a big payday for veteran players. In fact, a total of eight veterans on Minnesota’s roster have $100,000 bonuses on the line. While vaccine distribution is underway, the conditions at practice facilities still aren’t adequate for COVID safety for many players. But for some, that very idea isn’t easy to understand.
“If we lose spring, (young players) are not getting developed,” said Bruce Arians told the Athletic’s Greg Auman. He got conspiratorial as he speculated about other reasons players might be sitting out. “The veterans love that shit, because that means they don’t get to take their jobs.”
Ah, yes, the same athletes who are risking their bodies every week are too scared to put the work in. Makes a lot of sense, Bruce.
This may all seem a bit melodramatic, but the league’s treatment of players is an issue everybody should care about. The good news for Vikings fans is that Minnesota may be one of the organizations tackling the issue head-on.
Per Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune, the Vikings will allow players to participate in these workouts virtually and earn designated bonuses. It’s just a start for the league as a whole, but it’s nice to see Minnesota at the forefront of improving player treatment.
Bitterness regarding foolish old-school attitudes aside, this has been a story for a while now, but nobody is really covering it. To the NFL’s credit, they’ve got a built-in public relations shield with the upcoming draft, but this is still a huge issue.
There’s literally no other sport that asks for so much from their athletes on a year-round schedule. The offseason for the average NFL player will last from somewhere in January to mid-April. Outside that narrow window of time, players are constantly beating up their bodies.
The most ironic part of all of this is that players aren’t even asking to end OTAs or skip them this year. They’re simply asking to make these workouts virtual during a global pandemic. While it seems like a pretty reasonable request, the NFL cannot even agree to this.
The league’s choice to die on this hill is increasingly hard to understand when considering that the players agreed to add a game to the regular 16-game schedule. This will likely skyrocket league profits, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the players.
Injury rates have been steadily increasing for a decade now, and I can’t imagine the new 17-game schedule will help. It cannot be understated how much the players sacrifice every year, so it probably wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to give them another month or so off. It seems pretty clear there’s an easy solution.
So why should the casual fan care about this at all?
I’d argue things like this eventually affect the product on the field. Without the players there is no league, and players are completely aware of the power they have. Having guys come into team facilities for OTAs may seem rather harmless, but when you tack it on with the rest of what they have to do, it’s draining.
Having to grind constantly is a detriment not only mentally for these players but physically. These guys have lives outside of football, and they should be encouraged to live them fully.
I realize the NFL Draft is coming up, and that’s all football fans want to talk about right now, but don’t ignore other headlines like this one. At the end of the day, in a successful league, player treatment is everything. And every fan should have a stake in it.