- The Week 12 game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens is still set for Wednesday afternoon.
- The Ravens have left for Pittsburgh despite two more positive COVID-19 tests.
- There are rumors that the Ravens players refused to play if the game wasn’t rescheduled.
There was finally some normalcy in the Tuesday news reports on the Baltimore Ravens. The team practiced earlier today and will travel to Pittsburgh tonight. Despite early reports that Baltimore had no new positive tests on Tuesday they actually had two–rookie safety Geno Stone and an equipment manager. A ‘source’ gave ESPN’s Adam Schefter an oblique and downright Nixonian quote that the new positive results were “not unexpected and not a concern for the game.” The Ravens will be tested again prior to Wednesday’s game and assuming there are no new positive tests the game will actually take place.
That will be a relief to the NFL which has done everything within their power to just plow through and get games in the book despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This Thanksgiving prime time (originally) divisional matchup has become their thorniest challenge to date. Baltimore has experienced ten straight days of positive COVID-19 tests with at least a dozen players confirmed as infected with the coronavirus. The positive testing players include reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson who is clearly OUT for this contest.
The Ravens got some good news on Tuesday despite the two new positive tests. The team activated nose tackle Brandon Williams, quarterback Trace McSorley and injured cornerbacks Tavon Young and Khalil Dorsey from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Williams is still nursing an injured ankle and that has him ruled OUT for Wednesday’s game. Still, Tuesday was the first time since this fiasco began that Baltimore was able to activate players from the reserve/COVID-19 list. At last count, they’re down to 16 players on the list which is definitely an improvement from the 22 they had on the list on Monday. They could get down to 14 by game time as running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram will both eligible to come off the list on Wednesday after completing a 10-day quarantine
The NFL hates negative publicity–deserved or otherwise–and they’ve received a ton of it during the COVID-19 issues of the past week. Forget the sports media–the story has received plenty of coverage in the mainstream media. For example, as of this afternoon there were three stories up on the Wall Street Journal website that dealt with the NFL/COVID-19 in part or in full:
THE NFL’S THANKSGIVING WEEKEND HAS BECOME A COVID CRISIS (WSJ)
BALTIMORE RAVENS OUTBREAK FORCES THIRD POSTPONEMENT (WSJ)
SPORTS KEEP PLAYING THROUGH THE COVID SURGE. IT’S GETTING UGLY. (WSJ)
Also covering the NFL’s COVID struggles in detail is the New York Times:
VIRUS DISRUPTIONS HIT 49ERS AND BRONCOS AS NFL CRISIS GROWS (NYT)
AS VIRUS UPENDS NFL SCHEDULE GAMES SHIFT TO ODD LANDING SPOTS (NYT)
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME (WEDNESDAY) FOOTBALL? (NYT)
The mainstream media fallout could have been a lot worse for the NFL. There are reports that had the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game not been postponed to Wednesday there was a concern that Ravens players might have refused to play. According to the omnipresent ‘source with knowledge of the situation’ the concerns about a potential ‘wildcat strike’ by the Baltimore players was not insignificant. Obviously, you weren’t going to see this story on NFL broadcast partners like ESPN but it did get fairly wide coverage elsewhere including Pro Football Talk and TMZ Sports.
Not only would this be unprecedented I can’t imagine it would play well for the NFL in the mainstream media. The league could claim it as an ‘illegal strike’ but that’s not much of a counter argument to what the players would assert–that they were concerned for their health and safety. Pro Football Talk explained some of the implications in greater depth:
Such a maneuver, if it happens, would pull the pin on a potentially complex legal grenade. The NFL would argue that it’s an illegal strike, violating both the CBA and the agreement struck in early August to allow the season to proceed. The NFL Players Association would likely counter by claiming that the delays coupled with the refusal to let the Ravens properly prepare creates a physical safety risk sufficient to justify refusing to play.
The stakes would potentially be very high. The NFL, based on financial losses absorbed to date in 2020, could choose to rip up the agreement that allows the season to be played and scrap the balance of the season. Although that’s highly unlikely, the source made it clear that this possibility is squarely on the NFLPA’s radar-screen of potential concerns, in large part because no one knows how much money the various teams truly are or aren’t making (or losing) this season. If the league is swimming in red ink, this could be an easy way to stop the bleeding.
If the NFL is actually going to complete this season they need to have the players as partners, not adversaries. The suggestion that the league made the Denver Broncos play without a quarterback on Sunday as penance for COVID-19 protocol malfeasance is a bad look. Players refusing to play due to what they feel is a situation that compromises their health and physical well being is even worse.
PFT also addressed another potentially thorny issue–whether players would be paid for forfeited games.
For now, however, it looks as if ‘cooler heads have prevailed’. One interesting sidebar to this game–if it actually gets played and assuming the Christmas Day game between Minnesota and New Orleans gets played it will be the first time in history that a NFL season will have had a game played on every day of the week.