Not one solitary soul is nostalgic for March 11, 2020, the day the sports world stopped. You remember, right? Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the shutdown of the NBA. The next day, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was canceled, and the NHL went dark.
Sports at all levels have been in a constant state of adjustment since. And, over time, seemed to have figured out a way to make it all chug forward with only occasional disruptions. It was even possible to start thinking the worst was behind us, but that was always a naive and fanciful point of view.
Now, 21 months later, we’re in the midst of our most serious virus-related crisis since those early days. Name a league — NFL, NHL, NBA, NCAA, English Premier, Bundesliga — and they’re dealing with a huge wave of positive tests that have ravaged entire teams and forced a rash of postponements. Every league has been forced to reexamine its policies regarding safety protocols, testing, and how quickly to let afflicted athletes return to play. MLB, with an offseason lockout, might be the lucky ones as the new omicron variant threatens to wreak havoc with the sports world (not to mention the world at large).
Now the Seahawks suddenly find themselves smack dab in the middle of the fray as they head — belatedly — into a must-win game Tuesday against the Rams.
It’s jarring that they’re caught up in this, because Seattle, led by coach Pete Carroll, has been cited as a model organization in terms of taking the COVID threat seriously and doing everything in their power to mitigate it. When the NFL decided to cut back testing to once a week, the Seahawks continued to test twice, voluntarily and at their own expense — believed to be the only team to do so.
Why? As Carroll explained last week, if someone was exposed on the weekend, the Monday test would not necessarily reveal it. That’s why they added a Wednesday test.
“The Monday test would not encompass something that happened on Saturday or even Friday night, possibly,” he said. “To protect ourselves against what could have happened on the weekend when we are more vulnerable, we try to catch it again on Wednesday.
“We went right back to the philosophy and the character that stands behind the decision making, that we would be better off if we found out that somebody was positive on this Wednesday. That would help us Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and until the Monday exposure. That could help our guys stay safe better.”
The Seahawks have also been vigilant about stressing adherence to the safety protocols and have almost a 100% vaccination rate. They had been rewarded with the lowest COVID rate in the league over the past two seasons. The Seahawks didn’t have any positive tests last year and, until last week, just one in 2021, tight end Gerald Everett.
Yet the Seahawks were the unwitting victims of a massive outbreak last week among the Rams, who were one of three NFL teams to have severe COVID issues. At one point, the Rams had 29 players on the COVID-19 reserve list. The Cleveland Browns and Washington Football Team had similar outbreaks. According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo, the NFL was on verge of declaring forfeits for all three of those teams last week.
Instead, the NFL, at the behest of the NFL Players Association, went against its preseason declaration that games wouldn’t be rescheduled because of COVID-19 outbreaks; if teams didn’t take care of their business, they’d be hit with forfeits, not postponements, commissioner Roger Goodell had said.
That didn’t happen, of course. All three games were postponed, and the Seahawks will now take on the Rams on Tuesday instead of Sunday. That decision has led to considerable debate that the Seahawks were hosed, because the Rams now have more time to return players to health, while the Seahawks have had more time to lose players to COVID.
Indeed, that has been the case. The Rams have had 11 players come off the COVID reserve list, and coach Sean McVay expects more to rejoin the squad before game time. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have had seven players join Tyler Lockett and Alex Collins, who tested positive last week, on the COVID list. It’s a reflection of the highly contagious rate of omicron, which is now said to be at play in about 73% of new U.S. COVID cases.
Were the Seahawks hosed? Did the NFL kowtow to Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who would love for his team to play in the Super Bowl when it’s played at his SoFi Stadium in Inglewood in February? Why should they have to play a stronger Rams team while they themselves are further depleted, when the Rams were to blame for the issue?
The Seahawks were hosed by the NFL, all right. They were hosed by being forced to play Tuesday and then turn around and play again Sunday afternoon against the Bears. The league owed it to the Seahawks to give them at least one extra day to recover from the added burden of such a quick turnaround — one that they had nothing to do with.
As far as the postponement of the game, however, it’s hard to argue against it. The Rams are said to be almost fully vaccinated, so you can’t blame negligence on that front. The fact that nearly 150 players around the league tested positive for COVID last week was justification for the league to reexamine its stance on postponements in light of a virulent new strain of the virus.
Also, the six Seahawks players who were added to the COVID list Saturday — including starting cornerback D.J. Reed — wouldn’t have played even if the game was contested Sunday. And of the six Rams players who were cleared to return over the weekend, all but Jalen Ramsey (cleared Sunday) would have been able to play if the game had been held as originally scheduled. That includes wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Darrell Henderson.
The truth is, the Seahawks hosed themselves by starting the year losing eight of their first 11 games. From that point on, making the playoffs became an exercise in near futility. The math simply didn’t work out. Pushing back the Rams game, as frustrating and seemingly unjust as it has been, won’t be what did them in.
The NFL has much to be criticized for, starting with its shortsighted decision to no longer test vaccinated players for the coronavirus unless they have symptoms. As my former Seattle Times colleague Jerry Brewer, now with The Washington Post, wrote: “It seems the NFL’s owners, players and coaches are done with COVID-19. They don’t want it interrupting their season, messing with their money or delivering any kind of bad news.”
Zach Binney, a sports epidemiologist, told Yahoo Sports that the new directive represents the NFL “basically announcing that they’re giving up on infection control.
“These new protocols will result in everyone in the NFL coming into contact with COVID. The hope is if you’re vaccinated — and especially if you’re boosted — you’ll be able to fight off the virus with no or mild symptoms. But unless you’re boosted, it’s quite likely you’ll contract the virus and perhaps spread it to others, as well.”
In the long run, that’s a lot more worrisome than a delayed game and a quick turnaround.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that D.J. Reed is a starting cornerback, not a safety as originally reported.