With the spread of the coronavirus, professional sports leagues have postponed or canceled hundreds of games, races, matches, and other events. But the NFL will not let the COVID-19 pandemic keep them from holding the 2020 Draft, Sports Illustrated reported.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the decision Thursday night.
And for anyone connected to the league who might have concerns about holding such a major event when the country is social distancing and entire states are under stay-at-home orders, Goodell has a message: Shut up, or risk punishment.
What is the league doing?
In a memo to teams Thursday, Goodell declared that the NFL Draft set for April 23-25 will go on as scheduled.
A copy of the memo, tweeted out by ESPN's Adam Schefter, said that, even though the global pandemic has shuttered pretty much the entire sports world, the NFL Management Council Executive Committee was "unanimous and unequivocal that the Draft should go forward as scheduled."
Goodell said he received "widespread support" for the decision after he "personally discussed the matter with many other owners, clubs executives and coaches." He continued:
Everyone recognizes that public health conditions are highly uncertain and there is no assurance that we can select a different date and be confident that conditions will be significantly more favorable than they are today. I also believe that the Draft can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans, and the country at large, and many of you have agreed.
The commissioner did say that the draft will be "conducted in a different way." The league has canceled all public events and won't be bringing prospects to the draft, he added. Also, the draft was originally going to be held in Las Vegas, but now it will happen in a studio setting, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Rough week for clubs
The league put a stop to all NFL-related physicals Monday, and said that free agents and draft prospects won't be checked out until the coronavirus crisis is over, the NFL Network reported.
And on Tuesday, Goodell announced that all team facilities are to remain closed, Schefter reported.
The move has teams concerned. General managers are worried that the combination of canceled offseason activities and closed facilities means "there won't be enough time for player physicals, gathering psychological testing, getting further verified information about the players and some teams having to conduct the draft from home," Schefter said.
Though Goodell indicated in Thursday's memo that it will put some clubs at a disadvantage, he promised that the NFL would make sure everything would be "competitively fair to all clubs." But he didn't elaborate how the league would actually ensure that:
Our staff is certainly mindful of the operational issues this presents, and our top priority is putting in place procedures that allow all clubs to operate on a level playing field so that the Draft is conducted in a way that is competitively fair to all clubs. All clubs should now be doing the necessary planning to conduct Draft operations in a location outside of your facility, with a limited number of people present, and with sufficient technology resources to allow you to communicate internally, with other clubs, and with Draft headquarters.
What was Goodell's threat?
Goodell, who has often been labeled a "dictator" for how he handles league business, concluded Thursday's memo with a very stern warning: We can punish you if you even talk about this stuff.
"The CEC was also clear, and I share the Committee's view," Goodell wrote, "that public discussion of issues relating to the Draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action."
The commissioner's threat Thursday came a day after New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis lamented to NBC Sport's "Peter King Podcast" about the status of the draft. Loomis told host Peter King:
I'd be personally in favor of delaying the draft, so that we can get some of the work done that our scouts and our personnel people ordinarily do. And then just the logistics of trying to conduct the draft, with not having access to your draft rooms and your offices, creates a lot of logistic problems.
This is not a fantasy draft that you conduct out there with just a list of things on a piece of paper. There's a lot of work that goes into it to prepare, and there's a lot of work that is done during the draft. Listen, it'll be very, very difficult to conduct that and do it in a way that you're doing justice to the process.
No word on whether Goodell has had a follow-up conversation with Loomis.
Sport Illustrated's Jimmy Traina was none too happy with Goodell's attempt to silence those who would dare question his move.
Traina wrote Friday that the NFL has been "totally tone deaf and classless" for how it has acted during the pandemic, adding:
Yes, Dictator Goodell is ready to take action against anyone from the league who questions the NFL's decision to go ahead with the draft on April 23.
As of this writing, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus.
A record 3.3 million people filed for unemployment last week because of lost jobs due to the coronavirus.
But for the NFL, it's business as usual. And business as usual for the NFL is money, money and more money.
Nobody knows what this country will look like on April 23. Nobody knows if people will be back to work. Nobody knows if we will have flattened the curve. But if you work for the NFL, don't you dare mention that. Put a smile on your face and talk about how excited you are to see Joe Burrow get drafted by the Bengals!
No word on how the reporters at the NFL Network — which is owned by the NFL — are supposed to cover this.