I hope there will be no NFL this year.


I say this as the editor for two dozen writers who write about the NFL and fantasy, with goals which range from making a bit of money on their hobby to aspiring full-timers looking for a place to start. I write this knowing it will appear on a fantasy football website, where an-NFL free 2020 is likely a bad business proposition for my bosses. I offer this up despite the fact I make a small amount of money from this NFL and fantasy pie and benefit from the NFL machine just as many writers, readers, and fans do.


I hope there will be no NFL this year.


Fans should not be in stadiums this fall, no matter what the NFL thinks or wants. The COVID-19 pandemic worsens across the United States, and has only stagnated so far in places practicing social distancing - whether by government mandate or personal choice. Reports vary on both the effectiveness and date of success of either herd immunity or a vaccine, but neither is going to be in place by September 10. Proper social distancing procedures and liability waivers signed by fans may protect the NFL from financial ruin during a pandemic, but do little to ease concerns about the choke point entryways to almost all stadiums and the culture of tailgating and togetherness the NFL sells. A game is an opportunity to get together with friends and celebrate, either in a stadium parking lot or on the couch. The NFL should not be encouraging this, for the safety and security of its fans.


I hope there will be no NFL this year.


I have reached an uneasy truce with myself in watching the NFL and seeing modern gladiators do long-term damage to their bodies for my entertainment. The NFL is a place where humans with rare physical gifts and determination can compete at the highest level with others like them and make money doing so. In the best of cases, they can ensure intergenerational wealth, setting up themselves, their children, and generations to come. I can never fault a player for wanting money or wanting competition. On a much smaller scale, those of us who cheer for these teams or play fantasy football are seeking the same skill and payout.


Asking players to play during a COVID-19 pandemic extends beyond these players. Many argue these players are in peak physical condition, making them the least likely to be impacted by symptoms from COVID-19. Almost every report we’ve seen of professional athletes has them listed as asymptomatic. Close physical contact between fifty players on each team puts more than players at risk, however. By playing, the NFL is mandating the players make choices which put their friends and family at risk by virtue of being pulled into work. This is the same struggle medical professionals and other essential workers have been going through for months, where demands of their livelihood isolate them from those they love. The NFL is not essential, it’s entertainment - asking players to make the same sacrifice is unnecessary.


I hope there will be no NFL this year.


The NFL return would serve as a welcome distraction for many. For so many fans, it’s a bonding moment, a chance to connect with strangers around a common goal every Sunday for four months. For fantasy players, it’s a chance to compete with friends and others who share their passion. It’s a welcome distraction, a chance to forget about the bills which need to be paid or the laundry to be done. Instead, we enter into a routine many of us have been doing since our early childhoods. Sunday afternoons in Fall means the NFL for a large part of the country.


It is no coincidence that without our sports distractions, the ugly underbelly of our nation is showing. Much like the gladiators of old, our athletes of the present serve both as heroes and entertainers. Our sports are closed markets with understood rules, where outcomes can be both personally crushing but have no impact on the world at large. A referee’s bad call or a receiver’s amazing catch can serve to ruin or make our day, but we wake up Monday morning and go to work or school no matter what. No matter how much we argue about pass interference, it doesn’t impact the stock market or get us fired.


The NFL - as the most popular sport in the United States - serves as bread and circuses for the nation. The phrase originates in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal, who decried a Roman populace preferring to visit the coliseum and see the gladiators fight rather than upholding their obligations as citizens and be politically active. We can see this now, how when sports as a whole were removed from our consciousness, discussions of racial injustice, police brutality, and economic inequality come to the forefront. So many who remained silent or only engage in discussions rankings their favorite wide receivers instead use their platforms to raise awareness and lead conversations on these topics. On a much larger scale, the removal of sports leads to more diversity in conversations across the dinner table and harder conversations where we need to answer why the world is the way it is. It doesn’t allow us to avoid tough conversations we should be having with our parents and friends because there are highlights from training camp to ogle.


There are so many who yearn to return to sports as a distraction, and I admit I will likely be distracted as well when the NFL returns. Our country is reeling from a health crisis where 130,000 people have died from a disease with no vaccine, and where tens of millions of people have taken to the streets to protest police brutality. These are more pressing issues than Tom Brady’s attempts to prove himself with Bill Belichick, and discussions which shouldn’t be swallowed up by a ridiculous DeAndre Hopkins sideline catch. Before we can return to the previously scheduled programming, we need to begin to tackle these harsh realities.


I hope there will be no NFL this year.