UP IN THE AIR? Saints LB’s Comments Suggest Cancelled 2020 Season is Possible

Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The upcoming 2020 NFL Season for the New Orleans Saints is sure to go down in team history as one of the most unforgettable years that they’ve ever played, mainly because of the once-in-a-lifetime events that have been happening leading up to it including a world-wide health crisis / pandemic and a cultural revolution inspired by significant changes within American society.

But the recent and rapidly-rising ‘spike’ in cases (and in some instances, eventual death) from the COVID-19 / coronavirus has many folks growing more and more worried about their personal safety; and the comments made yesterday by 4th year Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone suggest what many NFL players now are starting to think and say out loud —which is that the upcoming season is actually “up in the air” — and could end up getting cancelled altogether.

Anzalone was just one of a handful of different players throughout the NFL yesterday. to speak out about the League’s constantly-changing plans on how they’ll somehow be able to successfully play a full 16-game Regular Season schedule as originally planned.

As of this very moment this morning, the League still hopes to move forward with its plans to fully conduct the entirety of its 2020 Regular Season.

But with the coronoavirus having seen a rise in cases in 38 out of the nation’s 50 states within the last 14 days  according to a New York Times tracker, there are now mounting concerns that no matter what safety precautions are taken such as limiting fans to attend on a limited basis or even playing in completely EMPTY stadiums if necessary, the safety for the players themselves might not be able to be guaranteed.

And obviously if that’s the case, then the League at some point might even have to address the distinct possibility of going so far as to completely cancel the entire season.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on YouTube.com / Michael C. Hebert

Yesterday afternoon following the lunch hour, the NFLPA (the players association) conducted a joint conference call with a large portion of its members, in which it was disclosed that many of the NFL’s current proposals for implementing player health and safety protocols; honestly fall well-short of what they want to see guaranteed before teams began playing games in early September.

That conference call prompted the reaction of several NFL players on Social Media afterwards, including Anzalone and recently-signed Saints WR / RB Ty Montgomery.

Anzalone in particular then posted a series of tweets on his personal Twitter page, in which he told his followers and Saints fans specifically that while he still hopes the season can be played somehow, he’s less optimistic than ever before that it actually can happen.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on Twitter.com

Anzalone emphasized that the safety of all of the players is paramount, and that if the NFL can’t provide that assurance, then the thought of possibly even cancelling the entire 2020 Season is a very real option that can and should be seriously considered if need be.

It was actually just a few days ago prior to yesterday’s conference call, that JC Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns and the current president of the NFLPA, criticized the NFL’s health and safety protocols; in which he said that the league was “unwilling to prioritize player safety.”

To that point, the NFLPA has asked that no preseason games should be played to minimize health risks. As Saints fans are likely aware, the League has already reduced the planned Preseason schedule for all 32 NFL teams from the usual 4 games down to only 2 of them (one game each at home and on the road).

But with all 32 teams expected to start their training camps within the next 2 weeks, the continued argument over health and safety protocols between the league and its players remains a significant issue that potentially has devastating consequences for fans — especially the ‘Who Dat Nation’ and those who are still hoping to see the Black and Gold and the sport of Pro Football this year — in spite of everything that’s transpired and taken place up to now.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

As it turns out, Anzalone actually isn’t the first Saints player to imply or make the suggestion that the team might not even play a season this year.

Late last month (2 weeks ago) on a televised appearance on CNN, starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins told New Day morning show host John Berman that the NFL needs to GUARANTEE player safety as its #1 priority; before he’d be totally comfortable with re-entering the Saints locker room at the team’s Training Facility in suburban Metairie.

“The NBA is a lot different than the NFL,” Jenkins said. “They can actually quarantine all of their players, or whoever is going to participate, whereas we have over 2,000 players; and even more coaches and staff who can’t do that.”

“So we end up being on this trust system — the honor system — where we just have to hope that guys are social distancing and things like that, and that puts all of us at risk. That’s not only us as players, and whoever’s in the building(s), but when we go home to families.”

“I have parents that I don’t want to get sick. I think until we get to the point where we have protocols in place, and until we get to a place as a country where we feel safe doing it — we have to understand that football is a non-essential business. We don’t need to do it. So the risk has to be eliminated before we — before I would feel comfortable with going back.”

Prior to the NFLPA’s conference call yesterday, the Saints organization actually became the latest NFL team to offer deferment of 2020 season tickets to the 2021 season, which essentially would allow Who Dats to either use the money already paid towards the cost of their 2021 tickets, or to receive a refund upon request as first reported by New Orleans Advocate beat writer Luke Johnson.

And while the plan is for the team to still allow a limited or “scaled back” number of fans to attend games at the Superdome as long as they observe Social Distancing measures including wearing a mask, the reality now seems more likely than ever before that ALL 16 Regular Season games and the Playoffs, will take place in completely EMPTY stadiums League-wide.

But Anzalone’s comments yesterday just 2 weeks after Jenkins’ observations in that on-air interview with CNN, is a harsh stroke of reality for loyal Who Dats that have been holding their collective breaths — that some how and some way the current situation even at its very worst point — would still allow the games to be played this season.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on twitter.com

But now that likelihood seems to be fading with each passing day, and unless the country as a whole can manage to get itself to a point where the virus can at least be contained at a reasonable rate, then the uncertainty of a 2020 NFL Season starting on time (or actually being able to be fully completed by the end of December), is only going to grow much bigger and definitely heard much louder among the players.

For Saints fans, it means that being able to see the Black and Gold play any games at all this season remains completely  “up in the air” — and might remain that way unless the NFL can figure out a way to make player safety a guarantee — when (and if) the ball is supposed to be kicked off inside the Superdome at the beginning of September….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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