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Risking it all for the Big Game


I’m not sure if the Super Bowl this Sunday is a testament to our persistence and ability to overcome challenges, or more evidence that our priorities are all screwed up.

I will admit I’m surprised they made it to the finish. When Major League Baseball stumbled out of the gate in July, with the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals both having to shut down in the first week, I didn’t see much hope for the NFL being able to complete its season.

They didn’t get here without paying a cost. According to USA Today, 262 players have tested positive since the NFL began testing Aug. 1.

As a football fan, I noticed a disturbing but predictable trend once the season started and positive tests were announced. Broadcasters and fans started treating a positive COVID-19 test the same as an ankle injury. “How long will he be out?” was everybody’s primary concern. The assumption was the player would be asymptomatic, and it was only a question of how long he would have to remain in isolation.

That was usually the case, but not always.

Buffalo Bills tight end Tommy Sweeney developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and death, and has been found in patients who have contracted COVID-19. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez also developed the heart ailment after battling the virus.

Even players who returned to action were dealing with impacts we could not see. Former league MVP Lamar Jackson said he felt flu-like symptoms and lost his sense of smell during his 10-day quarantine after testing positive. When he returned to action, the entire left side of his body cramped up during a play against the Cleveland Browns.

Browns defensive lineman Myles Garrett missed two games after testing positive and said when he returned to action his breathing was labored, he had severe coughing fits and felt as if he was being choked.

Raiders tackle Trent Brown was on the COVID-19 list twice and had to be rushed to the hospital prior to a game in Cleveland.

The long-term impacts for these players and others infected with the virus won’t be known for several years.

I understand there are essential workers getting sick and dying every day who do not have the same access to testing and treatment as millionaire athletes. My sympathies are with them and their loved ones.

Some of them will be rightly honored at the Big Game. The NFL has announced 7,500 vaccinated health care workers have been given free tickets to the game. All 32 teams will be able to select doctors and nurses from their community.

Which is terrific. But there will also be 14,500 additional fans in the stands at Raymond James Stadium. They won’t necessarily be vaccinated and aren’t as likely to strictly follow health protocols.

That seems like a super-spreader. And it doesn’t seem all that essential. Not this year.

One final note.

This is the first time in NFL history a team will be playing for the Super Bowl championship in its home stadium. During a normal year, the streets of Tampa Bay would be filled with rollicking fans ankle-deep in spilled cocktails. All the parties have been canceled this year.

It sure seems a shame to deprive Tom Brady a chance to celebrate.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel