WASHINGTON — The NFL has officially returned! Take that, 2020! This year tried it, but professional football found a way.
The season starts Thursday with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Houston Texans. The Washington Football Team starts their season this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The road to the 2020 NFL season has been an odyssey in itself. In D.C. alone we’ve already gotten a new coach, a new name and new scandals. Alex Smith is miraculously back and Adrian Peterson is gone. That’s a lot of drama even by our standards.
The challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic have led to unprecedented changes throughout the league. Only six teams will have fans in attendance at games at significantly reduced capacity -- that will affect every team but ours. We're used to it.
Players will be regularly tested for COVID-19 but the NFL will not be playing the season in a contained bubble like the NBA and NHL, so the risk of people contracting it will be higher.
Players could be fined for conduct detrimental to the team "if they are found to have engaged in 'reckless' behavior away from the team facility." Good luck keeping football players out of the club. They’re going to need more than fines.
On top of everything else, the NFL has been forced to reckon with their own shaky record on social justice in the wake of the nationwide protests after the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
The league that blackballed Colin Kaepernick and then set up a workout with him despite having no intentions of bringing him back all of a sudden had to respond when many of their marquee players released a video in support of Black Lives Matter and demanded change. The NFL has responded by pledging $250 million to social justice initiatives and will allow helmet decals and signage in end zones for Week 1 games and home openers.
That’s not enough for a league that has reaped untold fortunes off of Black bodies and forced them into silence over the issues that affect their lives and communities. Then they gave us something no one asked for, playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before all of the Week 1 games. The best part of that will be seeing people’s faces when they find out no one knows the 2nd verse to that song.
Despite all of these issues, having the NFL back will be a welcome respite from... well, everything else. We could all use it right now. Let’s hope that the season does not experience any major setbacks and we can savor this small bit of a return to normalcy in a year that’s been anything but normal.