CLEVELAND — Browns centre JC Tretter is cautiously optimistic the NFL season — at least some version of it — will take place in 2020. He’s just not certain when it will start.
The newly elected president of the NFL Players Association, Tretter said Tuesday that the COVID-19 virus outbreak has hatched so many unknowns and created such a fluid situation it’s impossible to predict when football will be back — or what it will look like.
“This is a contact disease, and we play a contact sport,” Tretter said during a Zoom video conference.
Voted in by his peers just days before the global pandemic brought the sports world to a standstill in March, Tretter said he’s solely focused on the health of the league’s players, who have remained in virtual contact during an off-season none of them could have imagined.
Tretter is encouraged that some teams have reopened their facilities, but he acknowledged there’s a “long list of hurdles” to be cleared before players can get back together to prepare for a season that remains uncertain and strangely distant.
The 29-year-old Tretter, who graduated from Cornell with a degree in industrial labour relations, has been deeply involved in discussions ranging from scheduling to players with pre-existing medical conditions and other safety considerations.
Everything is in play. Nothing is higher on Tretter’s checklist than the well-being of players who are facing a ruthless, invisible opponent with an ever-changing game plan.
Although he’s a relative rookie when it comes to football diplomacy, Tretter gave several noncommittal answers Tuesday like a seasoned politician.
“There’s no bad idea at this point, and you kind of have to think outside the box,” Tretter said when asked about the potential of players wearing modified face masks with surgical materials. “And just because it’s an idea doesn’t mean things are definitely going to happen, but you need to explore it, and you need to understand it.
“You have to focus on fitting football inside of this world of coronavirus and don’t get caught up in trying to fit coronavirus inside this world. The way coronavirus has kind of changed how every industry is working, you can’t expect just to throw football back in and think that the virus is going to kneel down to almighty football.”
Tretter said the union has been holding bi-weekly conference calls for players and their spouses to answer questions and address concerns. He said communication and information are equally vital.
For players to feel confident outside their homes, Tretter said they’ll need guarantees that every precaution has been taken to minimize the chance of infection.
“The way this thing passes along is through contact, and that’s what we do for a living,” he said. “We interact with each other at the facility, at practice, weight lifting, at the meal room, it is shoulder to shoulder standing by each other, passing things around. So there is a long list of ideas we need to come up with on how to make this environment safe for us. And that’s why it’s going to be a lot of thinking involved in that.”
Tretter said testing will be a key to any return, and that for now, the league has the luxury of some time, with the scheduled regular-season openers four months away.
“In the end, we just have to make good decisions and safe decisions,” he said. “As more people leave quarantine, we’ll be able to see what’s going on and get more data points with that. We still have time before our season is projected to start. A lot of the other leagues are trying to figure this out right now and piece it together. We still have time.”
Tretter understands there can be no guarantees, but it’s his responsibility to present every potential scenario. Even then, when players are cleared to go back, they do so knowing they could still become exposed to the virus.
“There’s a level of risk to everything,” Tretter said. “You’re facing a level of risk right now going to the grocery store. There’s always going to be a level of exposure that people are going to face in this. So I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where there’s no risk of exposure.
“Coming in contact with other people is a risk of exposure. So that’s never going to be down to zero. Our job is to try to get that to as close to zero as possible, and that’s why you kind of have to look at everything.”
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press