Tampa Bay Bucs Lineman Donovan Smith Questions Playing During Coronavirus Pandemic

Smith says the risks of the pandemic might not be worth playing this NFL season

Donovan Smith Bucs
Donovan Smith of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts during a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on October 06, 2019.
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
By Luis Paez-Pumar / July 11, 2020 11:40 am

As the NFL looks to host the 2020 season in the coming months, at least one player is publicly expressing concerns about how the league can expect players to compete during the coronavirus pandemic. Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman Donovan Smith posted a letter address to the NFL and the NFL Players Association on Friday morning saying that he does not feel that the risks are worth it as they stand now:

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@nfl @nflpa To whom it may concern: With the start of the 2020 NFL season fast approaching, many thoughts and questions roam my mind as I’m sure it does for many of my fellow “coworkers” across the league. The unfortunate events of the COVID-19 pandemic have put a halt to a lot of things. Football is not one. To continue discussing the many UNKNOWNS do not give me the comfort. Risking my health as well as my family’s health does not seem like a risk worth taking. With my first child due in 3 weeks, I can’t help but think about how will I be able to go to work and take proper precautions around 80+ people everyday to then go home to be with my newborn daughter. How can a sport that requires physical contact on every snap and transferral of all types of bodily fluid EVERY SINGLE PLAY practice safe social distancing? How can I make sure that I don’t bring COVID-19 back to my household? Yes, we can get tested everyday, but if it takes 24 hours to get my results, how can I know each day that I am not spreading this virus or contracting it? The reoccurring issue here is how? There are too many “hows” that have yet to be answered to ease player concerns and ensure the safety of not only myself, but also my family. I just can’t imagine how the game will be the same during these unprecedented times. Now to hear that 35% of my paycheck may be withheld while we are out sacrificing our health and wellness for the joy and entertainment of everyone else who will be safe at home in front of their TVs? Something isn’t right here. That should at LEAST warrant a pay raise due to the risk, not a cut. I am not a lab rat or guinea pig to test theories on. I am a man, a son, brother, soon to be father, and I deserve to be safe at work.

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Specifically, Smith pointed out that football is a contact, physical sport that puts players in close proximity with each other every play, and questions how the league can expect players to remain safe and healthy during games:

How can a sport that requires physical contact on every snap and transferal of all types of bodily fluid EVERY SINGLE PLAY practice safe social distancing? How can I make sure that I don’t bring COVID-19 back to my household? Yes, we can get tested every day, but if it takes 24 hours to get my results, how can I know each day that I am not spreading this virus or contracting it?

Smith, who would be in charge of protecting new Bucs quarterback Tom Brady’s blind side during play, also said that players should be getting paid more, not less, for playing during the pandemic, given the risks they will put themselves under to compete.

Now to hear that 35% of my paycheck may be withheld while we are out sacrificing our health and wellness for the joy and entertainment of everyone else who will be safe at home in front of their TVs? Something isn’t right here. That should at LEAST warrant a pay raise due to the risk, not a cut. I am not a lab rat or guinea pig to test theories on. I am a man, a son, brother, soon to be father, and I deserve to be safe at work.

While Smith does not go as far as someone baseball players have in saying he will not participate, his post makes it clear that the league has more work to do on convincing players that restarting football is safe before he will feel comfortable competing this fall.

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