Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: The NFL dishes out a virus punishment, but to the wrong team

The National Football League is shooting from the hip at this point.

Every outbreak of COVID-19 in the league has been handled differently. This disproportionate approach was most evident this weekend.

Denver Broncos backup quarterback Jeff Driskel tested positive for coronavirus Thanksgiving Day. It was assumed the team would put him on the injured reserve list, and he wouldn’t be on the sidelines for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

But the league’s worst nightmare came true on Saturday. It was reported that the three other eligible QBs for the Broncos were around Driskel without masks on, which made them “high risk” and ineligible to play the next day.

Throughout the season, the NFL has tried shuffling games around in an attempt to avoid spreading the virus between teams. Earlier this year, the Tennessee Titans played on a Tuesday instead of a Sunday after 13 players tested positive for COVID-19.

What the NFL did this Sunday was wrong. Instead of postponing the Broncos’ game from Sunday to either Monday or Tuesday, it forced the team to play without a QB on the originally scheduled Sunday.

Undrafted rookie wide receiver Kendall Hinton, a former quarterback in college, was elevated from the practice squad and played in his first NFL game in a position he had never professionally practiced for.

Hinton’s performance was awful, but that’s beside the point. His courage to put his body on the line is enough to garner praise from fans and players alike. It never should have come to this point — Hinton wasn’t even given a chance to practice as a QB. Not only is that detrimental to the competitive side of the game, but it’s flat-out dangerous.

Why were the Broncos treated differently than every other team in the league?

This scenario on its own would be suspect, but the way the NFL is handling the Baltimore Ravens’ outbreak makes it even more puzzling.

If the league wanted to make an example out of a team that spread the virus, why didn’t it target the Ravens, who have 19 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list?

The Ravens were originally scheduled to play on Thanksgiving against their rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but those positive cases forced the NFL to postpone the game several times. 

Pretty reasonable response, right?

The response becomes ridiculous pretty quickly. The game, rescheduled for Sunday, was pushed back again to Tuesday night, as more players were testing positive each day, including 2019 league MVP Lamar Jackson. It was then moved to Wednesday afternoon, making it the first game in the season to be postponed three times.

The NFL bent over backward for this game to be played, yet allowed Hinton to be thrown to the wolves. It’s asinine and proves, once again, money is the only thing that matters to this league. The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is one of the most famous in all of American sports, and would most certainly attract a ton of viewers.

If the Ravens were unable or unwilling to field a team for Tuesday night, then why did the league not force a forfeit? Moving the game to Wednesday has caused another gigantic shift to other teams’ schedules — just so the Ravens could have a chance to barely get 22 guys on the field.

If the NFL was serious about laying down the hammer and punishing teams that do not follow every single COVID-19 precaution, then Baltimore should lose any chance to play this game. 

And the treatment the Ravens have received is punishing other teams. The Steelers now need to adjust their game planning and travel schedules — for the second time this year — because their opponents allowed the virus to spread through the ranks at a high rate. The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football have also had to adjust their schedules. 

The Saints, Patriots, Titans and Las Vegas Raiders have all received virus-related fines this season. We should expect one to come for Baltimore.

Instead, we saw Hinton running for his life on Sunday while Baltimore gets treated like a VIP.

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