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NFL players caught not social-distancing face stiff fines

49ers corner Richard Sherman says that players will abide by the league's rules regarding COVID-19 safety.
49ers corner Richard Sherman says that players will abide by the league's rules regarding COVID-19 safety.

Any NFL player who does not plan to spend the next half-year or so in strict social isolation ought to disable the selfie function on his smartphone right away.

And never pose for a photo in private, let alone in public.

That’s because one of a slew of special new rules for NFL players to abide by for the remainder of the year/season — now in effect because of the coronavirus pandemic — would slap a steep financial penalty against any player who recklessly exposes himself, and by extension his team and in turn other teams, to COVID-19.

NFL teams are not and will not be sequestered in mandatory “bubbles,” as NHL and NBA teams have been.

By league and players-union agreement, finalized this week and revealed by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, an NFL club may slap any player with a maximum fine of one week’s salary and/or suspension without pay (not to exceed four weeks) for conduct detrimental to the club — specifically, for engaging in such high-risk social activity relative to COVID-19, as follows:

  • Attending an indoor night club, unless a player is wearing PPE and there are not more than 10 people in the club;
  • Attending an indoor bar (other than to pick up food, and excluding food-first restaurants that might have a bar area) unless the player is wearing PPE and there are no more than 10 people in the bar;
  • Attending house gatherings of more than 15 people without the player and all guests wearing masks or PPE, or where social distancing for more than 10 people is impossible;
  • Attending an indoor music concert or entertainment event;
  • Attending another pro sports event, unless seated in a separated seating section such as a suite or owner’s box, while wearing PPE, and provided there are no more than 10 people in that separate seating section;
  • Attending an event prohibited because of COVID-19 by state and/or local regulation, executive order or law.

Many top NFL players already try to avoid such public settings during the season. But those who enjoy the night life, occasionally or a lot, really ought to think twice about it before February.

For instance, what if a player properly and responsibly enters a bar containing fewer than 10 people, but five people suddenly show up to put the total number over 10 — and some fan snaps a photo of said player in that instant, and then the image goes viral?

What’s the NFL gonna do? Not fine or suspend that player, when the photographic proof is incontrovertible, even if the player — upon counting patrons — instantly bolted the establishment?

Better to not go in the first place.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters he believes players “have adjusted and adapted in a way they needed to,” protocols-wise.

Besides, as a 49ers captain, he pointed out that “at the end of the day, these are grown men and these are pros. If they’re going to (mess up) they’ll get quarantined, they’ll get replaced.”

But it sure helps, he added, that the Niners are based in the quiet San Jose suburb of Santa Clara, where night life is practically non-existent. It’s nowhere near party-magnet places such as Miami Beach, New Orleans, Manhattan, etc.

For those who break the new rule? Well, getting docked one week’s pay even for the poorest-paid rookies in 2020 is $35,882. For the longest-serving veterans it’s $61,765. For a star earning $10 million per year it’s $588,235. Serious coin.

Including practice-squad players there’ll be some 2,200 players on NFL rosters after cut-downs on Labour Day weekend. Is it asking too much of that many young men, over 5-6 months, to avoid all of the above social settings?

Probably. But hopefully not.

DEADLINE FOR OPT-OUTS

A reminder that players have until Thursday at 4 p.m. ET to decide whether to opt out of the 2020 season.

After Wednesday, 54 players already had opted out, out of some 2,600-2,800 players on pre-training-camp rosters.

Two Miami Dolphins wide receivers joined the opt-out group this week: Allen Hurns on Tuesday and Albert Wilson on Wednesday. That won’t help rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa in his quest to impress his coaches early enough to unseat long-bearded, long-tooth veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.

San Francisco wideout Travis Benjamin opted out Tuesday night.

Pass-rusher extraordinaire Von Miller of the Denver Broncos said he came close to opting out, citing family concerns, but ultimately chose to play.

Tre’Davious White of the Buffalo Bills — one of the top two or three coverage cornerbacks in the league — said on a video conference call with reporters Wednesday he might yet decide to opt out.

“We’re just kind of just taking it down to the last day, and we’re going to decide from there,” White said. “I’m still kind of undecided, honestly.”

New Indianapolis Colts QB Philip Rivers said opting out “would have been making the decision to be done, period. Retiring. Which is nowhere on my mind.”

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES

More than a third of players placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list already have come off it.

After Wednesday, 94 players (and none on Wednesday) had been parked there, either for having contracted the coronavirus or for having come in close contact with someone with it since late July. The NFL cannot say which, but the NFL Players Association website said that as of Wednesday 56 players had tested positive since training camps opened.

Forty-three of the 94 shelved players have been reactivated.

To be reactivated, a player who contracted the virus must be symptom-free for at least three days, and at least 10 days must have passed since his first symptoms appeared, while a player who only came in close contact with someone with COVID-19 requires two negative tests within 24 hours to be cleared, then still must undergo increased monitoring and eight straight days of testing.

BEASLEY STILL AWOL

Tennessee edge rusher Vic Beasley still has not reported to Titans camp. About all head coach Mike Vrabel would say about it is that the former Atlanta Falcon “is not here. Everybody else is. He is under contract, and we expect him to be here. I’ve reached out, have not had much conversation with him … I want to coach him.” Players under contract have until Aug. 11 to show up in order to earn an accrued season for free agency. For that reason, if Beasley does not opt out by Thursday’s deadline, expect him to show up by the 11th, which is next Tuesday.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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