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Party's over: 2020 NFL season rests on players' commitment to a less lavish lifestyle

·4-min read

Every NFL team has an offensive coordinator. Every team has a defensive coordinator.

Do they need a nightlife coordinator?

Welcome to the 2020 season, where the pandemic hangs over everything. The NFL knows one of the keys to keeping the schedule, and the billions that go with it, is minimizing the need to quarantine players who test positive for the coronavirus and, more dramatically, preventing spikes across rosters.

Losing a player or two for a couple of weeks is bad enough. If positive cases hit a roster hard enough, the games might need to be postponed or canceled, and the entire effort is subject to collapse.

Making it through the season may be doable, but no one thinks this is going to be easy.

Along that line of thinking, ProFootballTalk reported that the NFL/NFLPA agreement this season includes prohibitions for players from certain behavior.

Nightclubs, bars, concerts, pro sports events and even church services if above 25 percent capacity are now off limits. Players can walk into a bar or restaurant to pick up takeout, but that’s it. They also can’t attend or host a house party with more than 15 people.

Violations can result in fines. Moreover, if a player tests positive for the virus after one of these violations, they will not be paid for any missed games and their contracts would lose future guarantees.

In other words, we need you to come to games, practices, training and medical ... and then go home and chill.

This NFL season is brought to you by GrubHub and Netflix.

Rob Gronkowski and Camille Kostek are seen on stage during "Gronk Beach" at North Beach Bandshell & Beach Bowl in Miami, Florida.
Sorry, Gronk, there will be no "yo soy fiesta" during the 2020 NFL season. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Wrangler)

This may be easy for someone such as Tom Brady, who is middle-aged and renting a 30,000-square-foot waterfront mansion with his family in Tampa. It isn’t for the bulk of the league, who are often journeymen who live alone in nondescript apartments on short-term leases.

How is this going to be policed? Will there be a “snitch line” like the NBA? Would that even work, since most of the transgressions would occur locally so opposing teams wouldn’t see it to report it?

Will fans be empowered to turn in players via cellphone cameras and social media? (Not everyone in, say, Chicago, is a Bears fan. Might be some Packers or Lions fan dying to catch a rival player ahead of a key game.)

Or does this fall on team security?

Playing in the NFL is a reward unto itself. Even the league minimum (about $600,000 per year) is great money. But part of the fun of being a pro athlete is being a pro athlete — if not nightclubs then at least the best table at a crowded restaurant or big gatherings of family and friends, often along with other teammates. No one is going to shed a tear for these guys, but that’s all gone.

This is really going to come down to leadership. It’s going to be about inspiring players (and coaches and staff members) to make the daily sacrifices that matter more than ever.

The Super Bowl isn’t until Feb. 7, 2021, that’s six-plus months after the start of training camp, 150 days after the season opener. Can social distancing be maintained that long?

It may have to be. The teams with the most discipline will have an advantage. It’s not that every NFL player is out partying four nights a week. Many of them live incredibly focused lives (it’s generally the offseason that coaches fear).

Yet this is still a group that is mostly guys in their early and mid-20s with some money to spend. Some of them want to hit the town. It might be smart for teams to try to stage their own coronavirus-safe entertainment options.

Every choice could matter in 2020. Injuries (and the roster flux that follows) have always been a part of football, but sprained ankles weren’t contagious. Now, the last guy on the roster can infect the best player on the team. He can also wipe out his position group. You want your star quarterback having to drop back to pass behind a patch-work, virus-ravaged offensive line? COVID-19 is a concern, but so are concussions and torn cartilage.

And what if it’s the QBs themselves who get the virus? It wasn’t uncommon for a team to carry just two QBs. That seems unlikely this year. There is no plug-and-play alternative with the quarterback, which is why some NFL teams are considering having a backup essentially live in quarantine so they will always be ready.

The NFL is forging ahead on the season, and absolutely no one knows how it will end. As with every business, there are adjustments, big and small, including a season without the (somewhat) traditional postgame party.

Somewhere, Joe Namath weeps.

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