Once darlings of the NFL, the Seahawks this week find themselves outside the closed ballroom, peering through keyholes (look it up, kids) to see only flashes of color from the pre-playoff dance among the landed gentry.
The shunning may seem even worse because it seems orchestrated by NFL evil-doers as some sort of punishment.
For what, isn’t clear.
Too many Russell Wilson spin-move-to-TD-pass-plays in the fourth quarter that foiled gamblers? Payback from the league office after being orally dunked on by Marshawn Lynch in run-ups to consecutive Super Bowl appearances? Retribution for Pete Carroll after he exhausted the league’s press conference transcription department?
Whatever misdeeds that were done, the Seahawks were partly done in by the two-day postponement that allowed the Los Anger-us Rams to recover from a record 29 positive COVID-19 tests to beat a rival that was evangelical in its fervor to stay bug-free.
Then after the outcome that withered the Seahawks postseason hopes, the testing protocols were changed, even if the changes seem to increase risks to players and teams.
Finally, the Seahawks now get to play the Chicago Bears Sunday at the Loo with half a week’s practice, meaning the risk of injury is notably higher.
We won’t extend this examination of seeming intentional action to include the officiating calls that compromised the Seahawks’ chances. Although there is a yet-to-be-confirmed report that the NFL received an email from the organization of Pac-12 Conference game officials conveying their astonishment and professional shame, and a recommendation for public reprimand.
The reason to persist wondering about the Seahawks paying a price despite no missteps of their own is because it is unclear what would prevent the NFL doing the same thing to another team if the omicron variant continues its spread.
By changing its plan from testing every vaccinated player once a week, to testing only a couple of randomly selected players, and testing the rest if only if they self-report symptoms, the NFL is leaving more openings for the virus. The league seemingly doesn’t want to know the breadth and depth of the spread.
“Yes, that is a concern,” Carroll said Wednesday. “What has shifted here is the impact of a positive test is being taken differently.”
At his direction, Carroll previously ordered two tests a week per player (unvaccinated players test daily), one more than the rest of the league. Reducing the testing to randomness runs contrary to Carroll’s belief, but he sidestepped any criticism of the league’s changes.
While it’s true that the vast majority of positive testers had minimal or no symptoms — vaccinated WR Tyler Lockett returned to practice Thursday, a week after testing positive — the creation of an honor system among players who are desperate to retain the most lucrative jobs they likely will ever have seems ludicrous.
What’s more, if additional outbreaks occur among NFL teams, apparently there is no established standard for when to implement schedule changes similar to the three games that were postponed last week. For example, in the NBA, a minimum of eight players must be available, or the game is postponed.
If there is a mandatory minimum in the NFL (each team has a 16-player practice squad), Carroll is unaware.
“I don’t know that,” he said. “There was a time where I thought there was a number of 44. You had to have 44 guys ready to go. But that was a long time ago. I haven’t heard them talk about that.
“It still could come up . . . Something changed (about the virus), and we know that. We’re a good test case in that regard. (But the league is) not thinking (cancellation) at all.”
Because we’ve all learned things do change quickly in a pandemic, it’s understandable if the NFL feels like it’s changing a flat tire on a moving car. Even scientists don’t always get things right the first time on an evolving menace. Breakthrough cases happen even when procedures are followed.
But trusting players to self-report, as well as failing to establishing mandatory minimums, are two things the NFL can fix right away. Doing it right away is important, otherwise the next outbreak will get the league backed into another corner. It will victimize another team playing for more stakes than the Seahawks had Tuesday.
Credibility regarding competition is a significant asset for any pro sports enterprise. Otherwise it risks having fans do things like bringing trash cans to ballparks to insult the visiting team.
For a league that still doesn’t understand player safety, Urban Meyer or the pass interference rule, it’s worthwhile for the NFL to be less of a target-rich environment.