The world was a different place two weeks ago; the start of NFL free agency was tolerable. Strange, but tolerable. We were in the very early throes of social distancing and home confinement and the business of players changing teams and agreeing to terms for millions of dollars was a welcome diversion, accounting for a certain bizarre sense of normalcy.
That was then. This is now. The new normalcy is grim and frightening and foreboding. This is no time for full-steam ahead, no time to steadfastly hold the 2020 NFL Draft on April 23-25.
Moving forward as scheduled with this always-anticipated event, albeit remotely and safely, is not appropriate. Not three weeks from today. Not with temporary morgues in our city and makeshift hospital tents pitched in Central Park. Not with horrific sights of our brave doctors and nurses and healthcare workers risking their lives to save others despite going into virus-infected territory shamefully unprepared, wearing garbage bags and day-old masks as their only protection from COVID-19.
And not with the lose-your-breath projections of hundreds of thousands of deaths in the coming weeks and months, perhaps peaking the night of April 23, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants to ring the bell and open his league up for a draft that will seem small and insignificant and, quite frankly, obtrusive and misguided.
Postpone it. Move it back. There is no reason the NFL draft cannot be a month later, in mid-or-late May. Perhaps by then, the “flatten the curve” warning we’ve all come to know and despise will indeed be reality and devastation is somewhat mitigated by healing. This is not only a New York sensibility, not only the droplets of nervous perspiration from hailing distance of Elmhurst Hospital, where lines of those searching for tests and despair and death are real, revealing images that are not supposed to be of this time and place. Hot spots are erupting North and South, East and West, reaching nearly every corner of the nation and thus, every branch shooting off the NFL’s Redwood-sized trunk.
The gala festivities in Las Vegas, of course, are already scratched and there are plans afoot for the draft to proceed with just enough pomp and circumstance to make for gaga television ratings.
Teams will be able to create virtual “war room” communications as they adhere to their draft boards and restock rosters in the first round and on through Round 7. It can work.
But it should not go on. Not amid a crisis that will cost more lives in this country than the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. By the end of this onslaught, the death toll in the United States from the coronavirus will be as if the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 happened every day for an entire month. Experts say that is the best-case scenario.
There are NFL employees working from home, poring over video, studying every nuance of every draft-eligible player, wondering what the heck the league is thinking here. No one dare speak up, though, as Goodell in a memo to every team last week stated the draft will go on as scheduled and warned, “Public discussion of issues relating to the Draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.”
The commissioner cannot punish anyone for projecting how they will feel 21 days from now, with the Bengals on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick. Nowadays we are all on the clock, homebound, growing increasingly anxious, stressed about gloves and masks and yes, toilet paper. Concerned about friends and family awaiting tests, increasingly frustrated for those, appallingly, not able to get tested. Sickened we are not allowed to visit, comfort or hug an elderly parent, lying awake at night wondering if we ever will get the chance to do so again.
The NFL has a responsibility here. The draft is its own social network — very few watch it alone. The temptation for gatherings and watch parties does not need to be out there three weeks from now. Not with projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicting the peak, in terms of illness and hospital-bed overload within a few days before or after April 23 will arrive in Pennsylvania (Eagles, Steelers) Indiana (Colts), Ohio (Bengals, Browns), Tennessee (Titans), Alabama, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Georgia (Falcons), Minnesota (Vikings), Nebraska, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona (Cardinals). The peak in Florida (Dolphins, Buccaneers, Jaguars) is not expected until early May.
This is an unprecedented struggle. Death is upon us. The NFL draft can wait.