Let’s not sugarcoat it; the NFL is usually late to the party when it comes to an understanding of what is happening in society. The league has bungled suspensions to players who are charged with domestic violence, failed to support its mostly African-American players union when it comes to social justice issues, and routinely acts as if it is above the law.
In the latest example, Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic is reporting that the NFL is considering asking fans to sign a COVID-19 waiver if they attend games during the 2020 season:
NFL wants fans in stadiums come September, but they might have to sign a Covid-19 waiver. My story https://t.co/Gs6Zc3JI6Z— Daniel Kaplan (@KaplanSportsBiz) July 1, 2020
The league has repeatedly said it intends on starting the 2020 season on time, but with coronavirus cases spiking across most of the country, this seems like it is less likely to happen by the day.
Kaplan adds that the NFL has already said if fans are at the stadiums, they won’t be able to sit in the first six-to-eight rows. He also says the league has a plan to have stadiums change their practices, such as no cash transactions, pre-packaged food, and drinks, plus more vigorous cleaning practices and requiring masks for anyone in attendance.
The issue with this is the legal difference between states. Kaplan spoke with a lawyer, who routinely works with plaintiffs who sued Major League Baseball after being injured by a foul ball:
“Strange things about waivers…they are fragile—often easily breakable. Especially, as I assume here when you are asking fans to waive their rights even if the NFL is negligent, grossly negligent, etc. It comes down to proportionate power—and the NFL has a high hurdle to claim that a fan has an actual choice. Let’s say a fan and his family go to a game. The team/NFL allows, by poor processes, that fan, and his family to be exposed to Corona, and everyone dies. The waiver defense will either be a question of law for the judge, or a question of fact for the jury, depending on the jurisdiction and the particular facts. I’d take the case.”
Nothing it set in stone yet, but this would be a total miss by the NFL. The ultimate goal of keeping 70-to-80 players safe for an entire season seems far-fetched at this point. By adding fans to the equation, you’re just playing with fire.
One thing the league has on its side is that the other three major North American sports are returning to play before the NFL, so it should give a good sense of how things will play out leading up to Week 1 in September.
We have seen soccer leagues in Europe resume play without a hitch so far, but without any fans in attendance. Although the games don’t have the same feel as they normally would, they’re still giving us something to do while the world sits in limbo dealing with the virus.
Would you consider attending an NFL game during the pandemic if you had to sign a waiver?