Malcolm Jenkins signed a free-agency contract with the Saints in March after six seasons with the Eagles. Now, he’s questioning whether it’s wise for the NFL to let his second stint with the franchise that drafted him begin on schedule.
The 32-year-old safety who spent his first five NFL seasons in New Orleans after being selected by the Saints in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft doubles as a CNN contributor hired to comment on social issues. On Thursday, he used that platform to express his concern with what the NFL hopes will be a complete 2020 regular season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The NBA’s a lot different than the NFL because they can actually quarantine all their players, or whoever’s going to participate,” Jenkins said, referring to basketball’s plan to resume its 2019-20 season with all games taking place in Orlando, Fla. “We have over 2,000 players, even more coaches and staff. We can’t do that. And so we end up being on this trust system, the honor system where we just have to hope that guys are social distancing and things like that.
“And that puts all of us at risk. Not only us as players and who’s in the building, but when you go home to your families. I have parents that I don’t want to get sick.
“I think until we get to the point where we have protocols in place, and until we get to the place as a country where we feel safe doing it, we have to understand that football is a nonessential business. And so we don’t need to do it. So the risk has to be really eliminated before I would feel comfortable with going back.”
The NFL to this point has not done much to alleviate the inevitable concerns associated with playing a season during a global pandemic. Like Jenkins, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has tested positive for the coronavirus but is feeling well, also is concerned about the viability of the season.
“I just feel like there’s a lot of moving parts that have to be figured out,” Elliott said Wednesday (via ESPN). “I just don’t know how they can keep the players (healthy). You gotta put the health of the players first.
“And it’s not even so much, I would say, the players’ health — because I got corona, and it really didn’t affect me much. But a lot of people have kids — they may have kids with asthma; they may have newborn babies; their parents or grandparents may live with them. … We have to find ways to make sure that players and their families — and the coaches also and their families — aren’t put at risk.”
Because the league was fortunate the outbreak reached the United States during its offseason, it has been proceeding with business as usual (albeit virtually) through the spring and now the summer. But training camps are scheduled to begin in a little more than a month, and the clock is ticking for the NFL to establish comprehensive health and safety protocols to be implemented for players, coaches and all team and league personnel.
Those protocols reportedly will be discussed Thursday when the league and team owners conduct a conference call. Part of the plan, according to NFL Network, will be to test players for COVID-19 three times per week and isolate anybody who tests positive. NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer reportedly told player agents “there’s a 90 percent chance reliable saliva testing (will be) available before players return to facilities.”
“Positive tests are going to happen,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted earlier this month on ESPN. “The issue is, can we obviously prevent as many of those from happening, but in addition, treat them quickly, isolate them and prevent them from directly impacting our player personnel.”
Said NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills last week: “Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
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