Skip to contents
NFL

The NFL Will Get Tough On COVID When It Costs The Owners Money And Not A Second Earlier

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 21: Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders smiles after the Raiders defeated the New Orleans Saints 34-24 in the NFL game at Allegiant Stadium on September 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Nothing is funnier and more absurd than the National Football League pitching a hissy because its constituent members ignore all the directives from the league office. Thus, watching The Ginger Avenger (a.k.a., R. Stokoe Goodell) shake his fist impotently at the 32 teams because few if any of them are bothering to follow the league’s COVID protocols is among the funniest of gestures.

The league saw real consequences of their laissez-faire attitude toward coaches not wearing masks. Five were fined tip money, and some still didn’t mind ignoring the directives a week later, and yes we’re looking at YOU, Jon “Chin Diaper” Gruden (h/t Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and the Las Vegas Raiders, who went to a charity do supported by tight end Darren Waller without either masking up or making the other guests do so. They were also fined what your kids would now call smoke money, because the league didn’t mind not enforcing rules because it’s such a raging pain in the ass to have to lecture the children.

But when a number of the Tennessee Titans caught the virus (and get subsequently blamed for not following the league protocols) and forced their game this past weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers to be pushed back a month, and then both the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots had quarterbacks who got the crud and forced more schedule changes, the league saw the result of its underactivity on the front and issued a sterner directive from the one guy who can’t actually enforce anything.

So let’s review the paragraph attached to the league-wide memo chastising the team owners, general managers and coaches for middle-fingering the rules as they always do. Here is the commissioner’s why-I-oughta lecture in its entirety:  

“There have been breaches to the protocols and individual players, staff, and clubs have been disciplined as a result. We will not only conduct reviews in cases of multiple positive tests at one club, but the league and union will continue to conduct inspections of club facilities to ensure protocol compliance. If it is determined that club personnel or players failed to have followed the protocols, discipline will be issued and will escalate where noncompliance continues. Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.”

OK, let’s start with forfeited games. No chance. The networks would strangle Goodell with their bare tentacles.

Next, draft choices. What, like a first-rounder? Hah! Coaches and general managers get fired over those, and owners get told every day how important they are. Fourth-rounders, maybe, but nobody feels those. I mean, a first would get their attention, but the GMs and coaches would complain to their owners, who would in turn complain to the league office. The difference is, GMs and coaches would be punching up to the league, while owners would be punching down. See how that works? It’s SCIENCE!

Then finances. So, multi-million dollar fines for coaches? The owners would either cheerfully pick that up, or refuse to pay on the grounds that “Make me pay, jackwagon. I dare you.”

So what’s the discipline hook here? What is the one thing Roger The Spectacularly Inert could do to get these malletheads to understand that they’re actually screwing with the money? Easy. Tell the owners to do the talking. It is the only leverage Cuddles really has: his understanding of the how the networks pay, and don’t pay. If he could show the owners what they don’t get paid when they can’t get the boys to the theater on time, he could at least play the one card he has. Letting his bosses know that their other employees are screwing with the money may get them to move, and maybe giving one of them the O’Brien Burlap Goodbye would definitely do the trick.

But that would take a level of political skill and effort that Goodell stopped exhibiting a while ago. He’d have to backchannel the hell out of this problem because owners understand two things and two things only:

  1. They own this bad boy.
  2. They only get their backs up when there’s money in the wind.

In short, the league doesn’t really have the power to issue anything, but the owners have the power to do anything TO anything. In other words, the memo would have had a lot more throw weight if it had come from, say, league capo Jerry Jones and read simply: “Don’t screw with me on this, boys. I have killed before, and I am willing to kill again.”

It doesn’t matter whether he has actually killed. He just looks like he could give the order. I mean, he could terrify any corrupt politician in the country with merely a malevolent smile and a scotch rocks.

Of course, Jones almost certainly wouldn’t waste any of his influence on virus protocols because at heart he thinks COVID is just eczema with a little bit of sinus discharge. But he might go for it if his team lost a game to the cootie, and if he could ensure that the first sacrificial victim was defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Jerry’s not above sending a message that works first for him, and a team on pace to give up more than five touchdowns a game is due for a memo far stronger than anything The Ginger Avenger could ever issue.