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Column: Athletes have every right to question safety measures during pandemic

And to not have to put their lives, or their families' lives, at risk

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) against the Dallas Cowboys in the first quarter in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium. Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports
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The coronavirus pandemic was supposed to be in the rearview mirror by now after shutting down the sports world in March. New cases and deaths from COVID-19 should be on the decline.

But we took health officials’ coronavirus warnings as seriously as their warnings about eating too much red meat, a bunch of self-proclaimed constitutional scholars decided that wearing a mask at Costco infringed on their civil liberties, and the federal government deemed social media moderation a bigger threat to the safety and stability of the United States than a highly contagious and deadly virus.

So instead of a smooth return to normalcy in the sports world as August grows near, a familiar scene played itself out on Sunday, this time in the National Football League with the sport’s biggest stars.

Kirk Cousins , Drew Brees , Davante Adams , J.J. Watt and others took to Twitter to question the NFL’s health and safety measures as training camps open throughout the league this week, even while new cases and new deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise daily across the U.S.

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And like athletes before them in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, the NFL players who dared speak out were raked over the coals for doing so by an entitled group of sports fans and pundits disconnected from reality.

‘How dare these spoiled pro athletes put the health and safety of themselves and their families ahead of “The Game.” How selfish of them?’

How selfish of you.

Athletes — no matter the level — have every right to question the safety of their sport, whether they’re dealing with concussions or infectious diseases, and whether they are being paid to play or not.

For some athletes, the decision to play or not during a pandemic will be a business decision, as COVID-19 has shown to cause long-term health effects to both respiratory and muscular systems . Is that a risk worth taking to play a season that very well could carry an asterisk, if it even starts or finishes?

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For many other athletes, coaches and staffers, this is a family decision. Will playing or taking part put family members in danger? That’s what’s on Russell Wilson’s mind at the moment — not the Seattle Seahawks’ season-opener against the Atlanta Falcons — as he and his wife await the arrival of their second child together. And rightfully so.

I understand millions of essential workers across this country have been putting themselves and their families in harm’s way now for months and for a much smaller paycheck. And even if they are fortunate enough to be unionized — like we are at the News Tribune — they don’t wield the power and leverage that unions of professional athletes do.

That doesn’t mean athletes should lie down and put their lives — or the lives of their families — on the line. They shouldn’t be shamed into sacrificing their career just because you’ve ran out of things to watch on Netflix. Besides, have you tried Disney Plus?

This might be hard for some to read — and for a sports writer to even type — but sports are not essential. Curing your boredom is not essential, but finally getting control of COVID-19 is.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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