The NFL was the only major American sports league to pull off intact its most recent sports season, albeit without the presence of fans. Then came word this week from the league office, giddy over declining national COVID-19 infection rates due to vaccinations, that 30 of 32 teams, including the Seahawks, have “obtained approval” for full stadiums at the start of the preseason.
It’s good to be the king.
As much as any development in American culture, 70,000+ fans in full bellicosity in 16 cities will signal the return of what was Normal Life. Of course, we all know only remnants remain. But as Goodwill shoppers know, a little Spackle, sandpaper and paint can go a long way to fool most folks.
Full re-openers are still subject to decisions from state and local public health officials. But the league wanted to green-light clubs now for ticket sales, as well as the return of fans to training camps, set to begin July 31, which will also be open to the public.
A story on NFL.com said that Commissioner Roger Goodell told club presidents this week that 30 clubs have more than 90 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 personnel (coaches and staff) vaccinated. The remaining two teams, Indianapolis and Denver, are above 85 percent.
That means that safety protocols will be lifted, the most important one being that vaccinated players no longer have to be quarantined after contact with an unvaccinated person. The quarantine requirement, across all sports, has been the most burdensome.
The NFL’s success rate stands in contrast to MLB, which in the most recent accounting had only 14 of its 30 clubs above 85 percent. The laggards include the Mariners, who were doing well in avoiding covid for most of 15 months until last week. As of Thursday, they had three relievers — Kendall Graveman, Will Vest and Drew Steckenrider — on the 10-day injured list for covid.
As a result, the Mariners bosses, who already had 13 players on IL for physical reasons, have been in perpetual roster shuffle. Fortunately for them, the Mariners are in another throwaway season, so it doesn’t much matter, except for lost chances for the affected players to make the case to stay on the roster.
It’s not that teams would base a roster decision on whether a player has been vaccinated. It’s that the player loses out, for no good reason, on chances to prove himself.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who said he had “35 guys, something like that,” mostly rookies, in the third of 10 days of organized team activities Thursday at team headquarters, was not dismayed that his veterans stayed away over covid concerns.
Veterans from 20 other teams earlier notified management through the union that they would not take part in the voluntary workouts. Seahawks vets are participating via Zoom on playbook sessions four days a week as they train around the country.
“I support the decision that they’ve made,’’ he said on a video conference, dismissing a question about whether he was concerned that the other NFC West teams were getting mostly full in-person participation.
But he wasn’t getting smug about the virus.
“I made a pitch again today to our guys (to vaccinate), so that they are aware that the time frame that is left before camp starts,” he said. “Ideally, we would like to get everyone vaccinated before we report to camp, just to make it as safe as possible to everyone.”
The Seahawks, as with pro teams everywhere, couldn’t and wouldn’t make vaccinations mandatory. Nor would vaxx status influence the decision to keep or cut someone.
“This is an individual’s decision to make,” Carroll said. “Sometimes it takes other elements to motivate you to do things. In this case, we would like guys to do it for everybody around them, as well as themselves and their families. But it’s not gonna determine the guys making or not making the football team.
“The experience (of being vaccinated) does change your mentality, and how you think. There’s a freedom to it that is refreshing. There’s a there’s a sense of confidence about it that supports your work and your interaction with the guys around you.”
After OTAs, the next off-season benchmark is the mandatory veterans minicamp June 15-17. Carroll wants full participation.
‘We expect a pretty darn good attendance at minicamp,” he said. “There are a couple of guys that have some special situations, but for the most part we expect most of our guys to be there.
“I’ve talked to (captains Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson) for sure. We’re communicating on a good level about it. It hasn’t been a negotiation; it’s been a conversation about it. We’re kind of partnering in this thing to put it together so we can get what we need to get done.”
Which includes getting jabbed now, so the Seahawks don’t get stuck later.