By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After a frustrating few seasons and an unceremonious departure from the only NFL home he’s ever known, new Patriots quarterback Cam Newton has made it very clear that he is as excited as possible for the upcoming football season. With a golden opportunity for career redemption, who could possibly blame him?
Not every football player shares that view, though — including those who are in Cam’s inner circle.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who spent plenty of time working out with Newton this summer in Los Angeles, told The Wall Street Journal that he’s not at all looking forward to playing an NFL season during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I just feel like the season shouldn’t happen and I’m prepared for it to not happen and I wouldn’t mind not having it,” Beckham told the Journal’s Lane Florsheim.
Beckham was interviewed by the WSJ prior to the NFL’s official announcement of COVID-19 protocols, but his comments were published on Monday.
“Obviously with everything that’s going on, it doesn’t make sense why we’re trying to do this,” Beckham said. “I can understand basketball was already in the playoffs. Five-on-five basketball in an arena is going to be more intense than regular-season games. Hooping is different than playing an 11-on-11 contact sport where there’s 80 people in a locker room. We’re not ready for football season. So why are we trying to push forward? It’s obviously for their money.”
Beckham’s use of “their” referred to owners, best on his follow-up comment.
“And that bothers me because the’res always been this — and I hate saying it like that — but the owners’ [attitude is,], Oh, we own you guys,'” Beckham said. “And just kind of that unfairness going on that they don’t see us as human.”
Earlier this offseason, in a roundtable discussion that included Newton, Beckham shared similar thoughts.
“Now we’re in a place where people are really being affected. The economy’s being affected. People are dying. Numbers are spiking. And the [stuff] is real, and there’s no way around it now. The [stuff] is real, it’s in our face, yet they’re they are trying to make football happen,” Beckham said during that chat. “And to me it’s kind of, with everything that is going on, what does that say about our country that this is that important? That this needs to start up, when there’s no plan for us?”
He also said, “I think it’s just tough because, you know, let’s say someone fumbles. There’s seven, eight people on the ground. We’re all piled up, you know what I mean? Like there’s no way for us to not play the most physical sport on earth and [not] be close and have contact.”
Certainly, the NFL faces some major hurdles if the league is to pull off the full, uninterrupted season that it envisions. With numerous players already opting out and with other players already being placed on the COVID-19 reserve list (including quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Gardner Minshew) and with Eagles head coach Doug Pederson testing positive for the virus, the pandemic has already affected the league in a not-at-all insignificant way. And all of that has taken place before players and coaches have interacted with each other, collided with each other, shared a locker room together, and traveled around the country together.
It’s worth noting that Beckham has reported to Browns training camp since he was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot reported that Beckham felt comfortable with the safety protocols put in place by the Browns.
Odell Beckham Jr. has no plans of opting out for 2020 despite his comments to the @WSJ, sources tell me. The interview was 2 weeks and he sees how safe the #Browns facility is now https://t.co/XOQpnCt8GP
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 3, 2020
Still, as Major League Baseball has proven, the virus has cared very little for sports league’s protocols and planning. With MLB’s season not even two weeks old, 18 games have already been postponed. An optimist may say that MLB has weathered the storm; a pessimist may say that many more problems still will come. Framing it from an NFL perspective, postponing and/or rescheduling games is infinitely more complex, and rosters that are twice as large make the containment that much more difficult as well.
From the outside, seemingly everybody is hoping that the NFL can indeed make it happen this season. Yet when someone’s own personal health is on the line, it’s easy to understand why outlooks can be varied quite a bit.
Former NFL receiver Donte Stallworth — who who had two stints with the Patriots — expressed that he expects Beckham’s comments to be received poorly by many fans.
it’s almost comical how upset people are at the valid concerns from players about playing football during this pandemic. they’re upset bc players are taking ownership of their bodies, and reminding folks that they don’t exist only for their entertainment https://t.co/WlvhMW3bNX
— Donté Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) August 3, 2020
Stallworth is likely correct with his assessment, as seemingly everything Beckham has said and done (and worn) in his six-year career has generated “controversy.”
In this case though, even if the overwhelming majority of American football fans may want the season to take place, it’s worth listening to what the players who are actually involved have to say about the matter. And if (or when) it is revealed that owners did not put players in the safest possible positions, it will not come as a surprise if the optimism for a full NFL season disappears in an instant.