JC Tretter spoke to reporters for more than 20 minutes Tuesday. He needed three seconds to encapsulate the challenge the NFL faces as it works to play during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a contact disease and we play a contact sport,” the Browns center said on a Zoom call with area media.
Tretter’s comments matter more than most because he was elected president of the NFL Players Association in March. He’s deeply involved in discussions with the players, the union and the league.
He wouldn’t characterize his optimism that there will be a season, noting how the understanding of the disease changes constantly, the season is months away and living in a heap of hypotheticals can be paralyzing. He believes there’s a long way to go before players will be comfortable taking the field.
“So there’s probably not one, two, five things, there’s a long list of hurdles we have to get over and things we have to watch and check,” Tretter said. “So we’ve stayed really up to date with everything and made sure that we’re always looking through the lens of how do we keep our players safe and healthy as well as their families.”
Although minicamp in June hasn’t been ruled out, Tretter was focused on training camp in late July as the next deadline for resolution. He said the league and union could need all that time to reach an agreement on safe working conditions.
“I think that’s still a ways out,” he said. “I don’t think we’re there at this point. I think we continually just keep looking at what new information comes out, and in the end, we’ve just got to make good decisions and safe decisions.
“And we have, I guess what you would call an advantage, of we still have time before our season is projected to start. A lot of other leagues are trying to figure this out right now and trying to piece it together, and we still have time. We’re going to keep sitting back and making sure we’re making the right choices for our players.”
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, gave an update Tuesday from the NFL’s perspective.
“We are not putting dates on the calendar at this point,” he said of a potential return.
Tretter won’t stop looking out for the health and safety of his fellow players but realizes playing the season won’t come without danger. Sills said “we fully expect” positive cases of COVID-19 will arise once teams reunite.
“There’s a level of risk to everything. You’re facing a level of risk right now going to the grocery store. There’s always going to be a level of exposure that people are going to face in this,” Tretter said. “That’s never going to be down to zero. Our job is to try to get that as close to zero as possible. And that’s why you have to kind of look at everything. In every little thing you can find a little dip and fix one issue, that just decreases the level of exposure you’ll face.
“That’s why the conversations are so long and there are so many ideas and thoughts and kind of re-evaluations. ‘Do we have to do this? Who has to be present?’ Everything is being talked about.”
Tretter said the union is having biweekly calls with players and their wives to answer questions about what playing in the NFL in 2020 could look like, as well as proceeding safely in everyday life. The reality is there are many challenges to a safe return to football.
“So the way this thing passes along is through contact, and that’s what we do for a living,” he said. “And the way we interact with each other at the facility, at practice, weight lifting, at the meal room, it is shoulder to shoulder, standing by each other, passing things around.
“So there is a long list of ideas we need to come up with on how to make this environment safe for us. And that’s why it’s going to be a lot of thinking involved in that. That’s why we have conversations and calls and we’re looking at that every day.”
Tretter is concerned about players with preexisting medical conditions and stressed the importance of testing if players are to return. Thom Mayer, the NFLPA’s medical director, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that league engineers and sports equipment company Oakley are testing prototypes for face masks that could include N95 material.
“There’s no bad idea at this point, and you kind of have to think outside the box,” said Tretter, who hadn’t seen the prototypes. “And the way coronavirus has kind of changed how every industry is working, you can’t expect just to throw football back in and think that the virus is going to kneel down to almighty football. You have to look through different ways of making sure people stay healthy and there’s going to be new ideas, and it’s probably going to look a little different this year making sure people stay healthy.”