Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety and current neurosurgeon Dr. Myron Rolle says it is unsafe for the NFL season start, and that more time is needed before professional football can return in full.
Joining CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night, Rolle expressed his concerns as players around the league arrive at team facilities for training camps amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He thinks the best option is to postpone, or even cancel the season all together.
“I do not think it’s safe to return right now,” Rolle told CNN. “I think the NFL should delay the sport or cancel it this year to allow the wonderful women and men on the front lines to really get ahead of this pandemic and make it safe for everyone to come back to the sport.”
Rolle says the safest path for football to return requires a significant reduction in the numbers of cases across the country. While some states have found a way to slow the virus, that is not the case elsewhere, with hotspots in Arizona, Florida and Texas still raging. Rolle added that football is not a sport that necessarily lends itself to social distancing.
“When you have states that are hot beds and players coming from these places, I think it’s very difficult to sort of say, ‘I want to social distance,’ in a sport that’s inherently close,” Rolle explained, citing the “need to be cohesive in the locker room and in the huddle and walk-throughs close together.”
“It’s actually encouraged to be physical. It’s encouraged to have hand fighting at the line of scrimmage to tackle a player,” Rolle continued. “And as a football player, if you’re thinking about trying to keep yourself safe in the midst of a game that inches matter, one step too slow, one step too late, that’s the touchdown. That’s a win versus a loss.”
Rolle also called out the NFL directly, saying that if they really are the American institution and community leader they claim to be, they should be setting an example instead of trying to be the exception. He wants the league to “be a leader at the forefront and put the players’ safety and their families’ safety as a premium.”
“If the NFL wants to be part of the community, I think it needs to be responsible and think about what is actually happening in the community right now,” Rolle said. “A pandemic happening and infection rates going up and hospitalizations occurring, PPE at high demand.”
Drafted in the sixth round out of Florida State back in 2010, Rolle spent time with the Tennessee Titans and Steelers before leaving the NFL to attend medical school in 2013. He is currently a third-year neurosurgeon resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.
While the coronavirus situation across the U.S. does not seem to be showing much improvement, the NFL is moving forward as planned. Players arrived at training camp this week, and the league still intends to kick off the 2020 season on Sept. 10 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.
NFL Planning for Another Offseason Impacted by COVID-19
The NFL is bracing for another disrupted offseason, as the prospects of having players and coaches vaccinated in time for a normal minicamp and OTA process seems bleak, NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith said on Tuesday.
The start of training camps could once again be impacted, as well.
Smith, in a conference call with NFL agents, said there is no “rosy outlook” on widespread vaccinations being available for players and team staff before August, as reported by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.
“We’re planning for an offseason that looks a lot like [the 2020] offseason,” Smith said.
The NFL has not updated its offseason calendar beyond the 2021 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to be held in Cleveland April 29-May 1.
After that, would normally come rookie camps, organized team activities and minicamps in short order, but like last season, it appears most of that will either not take place or take place virtually.
Through the 2020 season, 262 NFL Players and 460 team personnel tested positive for COVID-19, even with enhanced health and safety protocols that included holding many meetings virtually and closing the facilities on non-essential days.
The Pittsburgh Steelers moved their training camp to Heinz Field in 2020 due to health and safety rules that would have prevented fans from attending if held as typically at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Steelers president Art Rooney II has stated his desire to return to Latrobe for 2021. It’s not clear if the team would do that if they once again had to abide by pandemic-related health and safety protocols.
Philip Rivers Retires; Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger Last of 2004 QB Class
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, leaving Ben Roethlisberger as the last player standing from the legendary 2004 quarterback draft class.
Rivers, 39, spent 16 seasons with the Chargers before joining Indianapolis for the 2020 season. He finishes his career with 63,440 yards, which had been third amongst active players and fifth overall in NFL history. Rivers threw for 421 touchdowns and 209 interceptions.
Seven times, Rivers led his team to the postseason, where he compiled a 5-7 record, but never was able to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Rivers was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2013, led the NFL in passing yards in 2010 and touchdowns and passer rating in 2008.
He was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft out of NC State, and was immediately traded by the New York Giants to the San Diego Chargers for No. 1 choice Eli Manning. Roethlisberger was taken with the 11th overall pick by the Steelers. Matt Schaub and Luke McCown were taken in later rounds, giving the class five quarterbacks that spent over a decade in the NFL.
All three players threw for over 50,000 yards in their careers, all three played at least 15 seasons, with Manning and Roethlisberger combining to win four Super Bowls.
Just five players in total from the class played in 2020, including Rivers, Roethlisberger, Schaub, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and San Francisco 49ers punter Andy Lee.
Sarah Thomas to Become First Woman to Officiate Super Bowl
Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl during Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida on Feb. 7, the NFL announced on Tuesday.
Thomas just finished her sixth season as an NFL official and will be working in her fifth playoff game.
“Sarah Thomas has made history again as the first female Super Bowl official,” NFL executive vice president for football operations Troy Vincent said in a press release. “Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl. Congratulations to Sarah on this well-deserved honor.”
A native of Pascagoula, Mississippi, Thomas has already been the first female official to work a college bowl game and in 2015, the first to work an NFL game.
Thomas, 47, got her start in the NFL as a line judge in 2015. In 2017, she was promoted she was promoted to head linesman, a move which coincided with the NFL replacing that term with the gender-neutral down judge. She worked her first playoff game in 2019.
Thomas wears uniform number 53. For the first time this season, she was permitted to wear a snap-back hat, allowing her pony tail to be visible from underneath her hat as she works.
The NFL picks the official at every position that grades the best throughout the season as officials for the Super Bowl. In addition to Thomas, Carl Cheffers will referee, Fred Bryan will be the umpire, Rusty Barnes the line judge, James Coleman the field judge, Eugene Hall the side judge and Dino Paganelli the back judge. Thomas and Coleman will be making their Super Bowl debuts.
“Their body of work over the course of a 17-game season has earned them the honor of officiating the biggest game on the world’s biggest stage,” said Vincent. “They are the best of the best.”