NESN Diary: Don’t Forget Athletes Are People, Too (And Other Random Thoughts)


May 27, 2020

Each day during the sports pause stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, will publish a diary full of random thoughts, opinions, takeaways, and other cool tidbits we?ve stumbled across in the absence of actual games. Because why not? We?re all in this together.

Whether it’s Michael Jordan’s iconic “flu” game, Tom Brady’s clutch performance down 28-3 in Super Bowl LI or David Ortiz’s impeccably timed walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, star athletes can appear immortal at times.

But the COVID-19 outbreak should be a wake-up call: Athletes are people, too.

As professional sports leagues in the U.S. attempt to reopen amid the pandemic, athletes are becoming increasingly concerned about their health and safety — both on and off the field — while being properly compensated for their efforts. These issues have been major sticking points in several different leagues, though some have been more reasonable than others.

Some leagues, like the NBA, have been working alongside players to put together the best return-to-play scenario possible. But others, like Major League Baseball, have clashed with players on issues like safety and pay, and some simply aren’t having it.

Take Kevin Pillar, for example. The Boston Red Sox outfielder is fed up with the notion players shouldn’t complain about having to play during the pandemic because they’re paid so mightily, and took to Twitter on Wednesday to air out his frustrations.

“I don?t live in a bubble. I know how tough and how hard people work to survive. I have hard working parents, brother, friends and in laws,” Pillar wrote. “I get how fortunate I am to play baseball for a living (but) I also know how much I?ve sacrificed and how much work I?ve put in to reaching (t)his point. I love playing and love what baseball does to people. Gives us something to cheer for, something to entertain, something to take us away from the harsh realities of life. I want to play more than anything and take care of my family as long as it is safe..”

And when one fan criticized him for being soft, Pillar had a great response.

“I play the game cause I love it but it?s also my place of work and the way I put food on the table. If you agree with your boss to work for X over the course of Y days, then they said you only have to work half of Y days… should you still be paid half of X?”

Then there’s Jaylen Brown, who posed an interesting question Wednesday on Twitter, as well.

“What are the long term effects of Covid-19 ? Asking for a friend,” the young Boston Celtics star tweeted, later noting, “There is not a clear or definite response for the physical long term effects” of the virus.

Both make very, very valid points.

Should athletes be expected to put their lives on the line for the sake of sport? (And without proper compensation, to boot?) If you have even an ounce of empathy in your body, the answer should be clear: Absolutely not.

And as big a sports fan as I am, I’m perfectly fine with putting sports on hold until it’s safe for players to take the field again. Because the last thing I want to see is even one player be infected with this god-awful virus. You might think, “Oh, they’re athletes. They’re fit. There’s no way they’ll die if they contract the virus.” But that simply is not the case, and no player should be subject to that mentality.

Here’s the thing: If we want sports to return, it’s imperative to assure players will be protected as best as possible. It’s worth noting some (if not many) athletes are eager to return to their respective sports. But that doesn’t mean they should do so without proper protection. And if leagues aren’t able to do that, they probably shouldn’t resume play anyway.

Look, some of these athletes might make millions of dollars, but they are human, too. They have families. And friends. And a life they’ve spent decades building. And this virus could take all of that away from them in the blink of an eye if they aren’t appropriately protected while working. This is a job they’re doing, after all. They aren’t just out there for your entertainment.

If athletes are going to be put in harm’s way, the least they deserve is proper compensation. Of course, money tight for sports leagues and teams in the United States. But guess what? Almost everyone is struggling financially right now. And many businesses that are keeping their doors open are eating some costs in order to do so.

After all, you wouldn’t expect to be paid peanuts compared to your regular salary if you were putting your life of the line for a job, would you? People might think these athletes are getting overpaid, but they certainly shouldn’t have to take a massive pay cut to play in a potentially dangerous environment. Should they expect to make their full salary for an abbreviated season? Maybe not. But shaming them for not wanting to get underpaid for their efforts is pretty tone-deaf, too.

Don’t like it? Too bad.

Players deserve to feel safe and protected at the workplace, just like any other human being should. And just because their workplace might be a ballpark or a stadium doesn’t change the fact they ought to be treated just like any other human being amid this crisis. I mean, they aren’t gods.

Anywho, here are a few other interesting tidbits from your Wednesday:

— Been missing sports? Brad Marchand is, too.

The Boston Bruins forward is itching to get back on the ice after the NHL’s more than two-and-a-half-month pause. And he took to Instagram on Wednesday to share his simple, yet relatable opinion.

“I can?t wait to be back under the lights again,” Marchand wrote in the caption. “Been missing the game and the boys big time.”

In due time, my friends.

— If you’re looking for some entertainment while certain businesses remain closed, look no further than the home of the New England Patriots. (No, we’re not talking about football, either.)

Starting Saturday, Showcase Cinemas is opening up a pop-up drive-in movie theatre at the Showcase Cinema de Lux Patriot Place, located just outside Gillette Stadium. The first film, “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” already has sold out.

Showcase is offering pre-orders for concessions which can be picked up curbside before the showing. Other upcoming showings include “Onward” (Friday, June 5), “Trolls World Tour” (Friday, June 12) and “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Friday, June 19).

Grab your popcorn!

— The NFL is toying with a new rule idea, but it doesn’t pass Jason McCourty’s sniff test.

The New England Patriots cornerback didn’t hesitate to voice his displeasure for the proposal Wednesday in a video call with reporters. In fact, it downright confuses him.

“From a competitive side, especially as a defensive back, you don?t mind that pressure ? fourth-and-15 or whatever the down and distance is,” McCourty said. “All right, we have to show up to win the game.

?But if I?m a team and I?ve earned the right to be up, we?ve made the plays necessary to be winning in the fourth quarter or whatever it might be, I have a chance to go seal the game by just catching an onside kick versus be out there for a fourth-and-15 ? from that standpoint, I don?t really understand it. We?re now basically rewarding you for being behind.”

Fair point. (And certainly something worth weighing as negotiations continue.)

— Speaking of the future of football, Robert Kraft appears confident the NFL will get in its 2020 season despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New England Patriots owner appeared on Tuesday’s episode of “Hannity” on FOX to discuss a variety of topics, including the coronavirus’ impact on the league’s upcoming season. And Kraft didn’t mince words.

?Well, we?re very much preparing to hopefully play football this fall,? Kraft said. ?We?re working hand-in-hand with our union. We believe we?re developing protocols that allow us to do it in a safe way looking out first for our players, our personnel and then, of course, the fans. I believe we can do it.”

Sure, it’s possible, too. But experts project a second wave of the virus could come as early as fall, so I won’t be getting my hopes up anytime soon.

Stat of the Day
Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell both turned 52 today. And now I feel old. (But hey, this OPS stat is pretty impressive.)

Tweet of the Day
Sounds like negotiations between MLB and its players are going swimmingly (she says with sarcasm).

Video of the Day
I already love anything Snoop Dogg, but this takes the cake.

More COVID-19: NBA Hall Of Fame Pushes Enshrinement Of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett To 2021

Thumbnail photo via Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY Sports Images
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