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COVID-19 hit the Philadelphia Union at the worst possible time. After Major League Soccer refused to reschedule, nearly a dozen players with mild-to-moderate symptoms had to stay home while the team played New York in the Eastern Conference Finals. Philly fans were outraged and deflated — the biggest match in team history would be played with a squad of backups. The Union fought valiantly, but in the end they fell, 2-1, and hopes of a title went down the drain.
A similar issue faced the National Football League this week as outbreaks arose in numerous franchises. Set to play the Eagles on Sunday, the Washington Football Team notched one of the heaviest tolls. In this case, officials did postpone the game.
Birds fans are crying foul. The MLS was intractable with the Union, so why should the NFL be adaptable when it’s a team outside Philadelphia getting hit? To which I say: two wrongs don’t make a right. The decision made two weeks ago wasn’t right, but it was made when the potentially deadly delta variant was thought to be dominant, before we had much data on omicron.
Health experts still don’t know a ton about the omicron variant, but it is thought to be causing the current U.S. surge. And three things held true as omicron tore through South Africa: it was insanely contagious; vaccines were less effective against it (especially without a booster); and symptoms were very mild. Deaths in South Africa didn’t spike, and hospitalizations actually went down. In other words: it’s not like delta.
This change in variants means there should be a change in NFL policy. It calls for nimble decision making, and making the best of a bad situation.
Because of how contagious omicron appears to be, if one football player gets it, almost everyone in that locker room is at very high risk. Vaxxed? Unvaxxed? Doesn’t seem to make a big difference, though the booster does seem to have an impact. The rules that applied to the delta variant — get vaxxed and even if you get it you’ll likely be OK; don’t get vaxxed and you’re taking your life into your hands — don’t appear to hold true for omicron.
With that information, the NFL will find itself making a lot of tough decisions. Even with the new rule approved this weekend that requires testing only for unvaccinated and symptomatic players, I won’t be at all surprised if we see more games moved around in the weeks to come, including playoff games. That strikes me as “unfair” only insomuch as COVID-19 is unfair.
Eagles fans seem to want the Washington Football Team punished for catching omicron, but without the realization that before the end of the season, Philadelphia is likely to get smacked by this variant, too. They wanted the WFT to play with 20-some guys off their taxi squad, making a mockery of the game, because they want to get the win and to have a full week off to rest for the Giants.
As a fan of the Eagles, I don’t want to win a game on a forfeit this week, only to lose on a forfeit in a later week because of the same rules. I also don’t think NFL teams should have to play meaningful late-season games with players they picked up off nearby sandlots. And I don’t think the MLS’s mistake means that other leagues should follow their lead.
You’ll almost never catch me defending the NFL. They’ve been an organizational disaster on everything from Black Lives Matter to concussions to the investigation into sexual harassment in the WFT organization. The league is run, in my opinion, by predominantly bad human beings. And WFT owner Dan Snyder is probably the worst of the bunch, an absolutely execrable person.
But all that said, this is a rare instance of the league getting it right. The NFL game should have been postponed two days — as it was — and the WFT (a team I hate) should not be punished because an insanely transmissible version of COVID hit their locker room.
I don’t want any forfeits, and I don’t want any excuses. Let’s just whip their asses on Tuesday instead of Sunday. Go Birds.