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This NFL season rides on players’ abilities to “play by the rules”

If NBA teams are having trouble keeping their 15 man rosters intact inside a pandemic bubble, how are NFL teams going to do it with 53-80 man rosters outside of one?

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

On Saturday, the NFL came to an agreement with the NFLPA on a collective bargaining agreement that now includes limits on players from engaging in certain behaviors throughout the season.

It is important to note this heightened aspect of personal responsibility on the players because their ability to “play by the rules” is going to be integral for each franchise’s hopeful success not only this season, but for seasons to come.

Players will be restricted from attending indoor bars (except to pick up food), indoor night clubs, indoor house parties with 15 or more people, indoor concerts, professional sporting events, and indoor church services that allow greater than 25% capacity.

These restrictions are certainly reasonable and obviously science based, and yet one of the major American professional sports leagues, the NBA, is already having issues with players abiding by common sense.

15 year NBA veteran and current Los Angeles Clippers wing, Lou Williams, left the NBA bubble to attend a funeral in Atlanta. Afterward, he managed to also sneak in a late-night visit to the rap-famed Magic City strip club.

His friend, Jack Harlow, shared a now deleted video of the two at the club late Thursday night and, later, tried to play it off as an old video. Unfortunately for Williams, he was wearing an NBA issued mask in the video, which was a dead giveaway of its timing.

After being interviewed by the NBA, Williams admitted to visiting the club, but said it was only to pick up food. Late at night, many bars and restaurants are closed, so I can understand the possibility that Williams was just really hungry after a long day and night mourning the passing of the father of a close friend.

So, I did some digging, and found that strip clubs are absolutely synonymous with dining. I once remember a female friend from Portland, OR tell me that she and her dad would get these really good burgers at a strip club together when she went home. It wasn’t a big deal.

That’s the only time I’d ever heard of the idea of strip clubs as legitimate eateries, but that seems to be exactly what some have become. There’s even a Rapper’s Guide to Eating and Drinking in Strip Clubs.

The Cheetah Club’s Alluvia Restaurant, which has been ranked by Business Insider as one of the 12 best strip clubs to have a meal in, seems like a tastier, yet more expensive choice. But, Magic City may provide a more welcoming atmosphere for Black people as it features more Black dancers and trap music while the Cheetah doesn’t allow any hip hop music or its dancers to twerk.

Plus, it sounds like Williams, a former Atlanta Hawk, is a bit of a regular at Magic City; and the menu looks pretty decent...for a strip club. Hell, they even have a $13 Beyond Burger for those vegan conscious ass slapping types of dudes.

Even though it does appear Williams was responsibly masked and was perhaps just in and out to pick up his favorite Atlanta fare, this outing is costing him $150,000 in docked salary. As nothing on the food menu costs more than $30, it’s pretty easy to weigh this as a greater risk than benefit for Williams.

In addition, his mandatory 10 day quarantine upon return to the bubble will remove him from playing in at least the first two, and possibly three, games of the NBA restart. His team is only 1.5 games away from dropping the #2 playoff seed. Williams, himself, seems to acknowledge what a bad look this is.

Physically, a 10 day quarantine could also hamper Williams’ ability to stay in peak condition and avoid soft tissue injury upon return. It’s also not great for maintaining team chemistry or bench depth as two other Clippers players have had to leave the bubble for personal family matters as well.

NFL teams will need to be extremely proactive in outlining these newly instituted health and safety protocols with their players. Everyone needs to be on the same page about what behaviors are allowed and what expectations need to be met in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.

The risks of every personal decision must be weighed against its benefits. After all, even something like a trip to Grandma’s 80th birthday party with 30 family members could cost a player a fine, non-payment for games missed, and possible voids of future guarantees in their contracts.

But, at the same time, maybe Grandma’s not doing well. Perhaps that player feels he needs be with Grandma now and can’t afford to risk his health playing a sport that is categorically non-essential.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is foregoing his $2.5 Million salary by opting out to focus on his medical career as an orderly in a senior care facility in Quebec, Canada.

Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate from McGill University, explained his reasoning succinctly, “Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system. I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.”

Each player must carefully examine his own personal situation in order to decide whether participating in this upcoming NFL season is right for him and his family. Players have the option to opt out and still get paid something. Players who are high-risk can opt out and receive $350,000, while players who are not high-risk can opt out and receive $150,000.

Players must assume that the league will go to extreme lengths to monitor their behavior. One easy step each NFL player should take right now is to delete their social media. They can’t help it if their friends or family are careless enough to publicly share their ill-conceived or ill-perceived actions, but they can at least try to control what is under their direct control.

There is still much out of every NFL players’ collective control, but they can at least take control over their personal lives and daily decisions. With an average age between 24 and 27 years old, NFL teams will have a difficult time wrangling entire rosters of young adult men into establishing appropriate social behavior.

It’s fortunate the Saints have such strong leadership in their locker room with the likes of Malcolm Jenkins (age 32), Cam Jordan (age 31), DeMario Davis (age 31), and Drew Brees (age 41). These “elders” will have to lead by example and demonstrate good personal decision making for the younger players.

And yet, at 33 years old, Lou Williams still made a costly mistake that hurts his wallet, his team, and anyone he may have exposed if he were to test positive for Covid-19. This mistake must be a cautionary tale rather than the norm if we are to enjoy any football this season.