The Nate Solder Opt-Out Could Signal the Worst for the NFL

New York Giants starting left tackle and former New England Patriots player Nate Solder has opted out of the 2020-21 NFL season due to the spread of the coronavirus. Solder informed the New York Giants of his decision less than a week ago. In his family’s statement to the media, Solder said, “Our family has health concerns, most notably our son’s ongoing battle with cancer, as well as my own bout with cancer.” He added, “…our children’s health and the health of our neighbors comes before football.” Kudos to Solder for putting his family’s health over the prestige of playing professional football. The deadline for players to opt out of the season is Thursday, August 6. Solder’s decision could start a domino effect on his team and further jeopardize the “normal” start to the NFL season.

Player Options After Nate Solder Opt-Out

The possibility of Nate Solder opting out was well known to the Giants organization as training camp approached, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. The former Patriots’ offensive lineman survived his own bout with testicular cancer in 2014. Persons with pre-existing medical conditions, including cancers, heart conditions, and diabetes are more likely to become severely ill if they contract COVID-19. Nate Solder‘s veteran presence will be felt along the Giants rebuilt offensive line unit. But general manager Dave Gettleman loaded up on offensive lineman during this year’s draft.

Two of the Giants’ first three selections were offensive tackles in this year’s draft. Gettleman also signed veteran offensive lineman Cameron Fleming as a free agent. The Giants selected Georgia’s Andrew Thomas fourth overall and then selected UConn’s Matt Peart in the third round. Thomas will likely get the first shot at taking over at starting left tackle.

The NFL Faces an Opt-Out Crisis

CBSSports.com and other outlets reported that prior to the start of training camps, the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) agreed to allow players to opt out of the 2020 season. High-risk individuals, like Nate Solder, could opt out and receive a $350,000 stipend. Players less at risk can still opt-out and receive a $150,000 stipend. As of Monday, August 3, 45 players around the league opted out of the 2020-21 season. While only Nate Solder will not play so far, the deadline to officially opt out for players is Thursday, August 6 at 4 p.m. EST. More players deciding to stay home could happen. Why? The NFL can’t prevent outbreaks of the virus among players.

The NFL is a team, contact sport. At any time during a game, there are 22 players on the field well within six feet of each other. On the offensive and defensive front lineman are inches away from opposing players and exchange bodily fluids on every play. The average weight of NFL players is 245 pounds. Lineman, in particular, are closer to 300 lbs during their playing careers. Weight and the medical issues it produces — stress on the heart and diabetes, contribute to a more severe case of COVID-19. The coaches are typically older in age and at any time during the season, there are 80 people or more in an NFL locker room. Plus to date, the NFL will not play games in a bubble, like the NBA or NHL. The league intends to play a normal regular-season schedule and travel. 

Lessons From the Other Major Sports

Since the MLB restarted their regular seasons, the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals had games postponed because more than 10 players or team personnel from both franchises tested positive for coronavirus. The pandemic proves that if you congregate without a mask and can’t practice personal hygiene, you will contract the coronavirus. NFL players and coaches will not be immune and face a real threat to their health.

The NFL Season Is in Doubt

With the news of the Nate Solder opt-out, and the more than 40 others, there is real doubt the NFL will be able to return as planned in the fall. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. recently said that he does not believe that the NFL should come back this season. He added in an interview with WSJ Magazine, “Obviously with everything that’s going on, it doesn’t make sense why we’re trying to do this.” 

Beckham doesn’t speak for every player and even after his interview with the Journal, he did report to training camp on time. The league’s coronavirus protocols were finalized and communicated to players after OBJ’s interview. But he voiced real concerns. His concerns are shared by the country’s leading public health officials. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN “Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall.” “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

Every day that passes without serious plans to play in a bubble puts the entire NFL season in severe jeopardy.

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