Updated September 30, 2020 - 5:02 am
The sad part: Headlines and social media chatter are not focused on money raised for Darren Waller’s foundation, created by the Raiders tight end to help those young adults addicted to drugs and alcohol. A beyond-worthy cause.
Instead, the narrative is about masks and those Las Vegas players who should have but weren’t wearing them Monday night in a coronavirus world.
Were they clueless? Irresponsible?
It could be both or none and still wouldn’t change this truth: Players not wearing masks being videotaped while interacting with the public during the “Beyond the Wall” gala at DragonRidge Country Club is a terrible optic.
For them. The Raiders. The NFL.
Consider also the Titans and Vikings were shut down Tuesday morning due to a handful of Tennessee players and staff testing positive for COVID-19.
‘Take virus seriously’
Las Vegas owner Mark Davis wasn’t at the event but said he donated money toward the foundation virtually. The team, Davis said, is looking into the matter.
“It is too bad that all the good work Darren and his foundation are doing isn’t the top story,” Davis said. “I’m really proud of him. But listen, I take this virus very seriously. The message throughout this organization is to wear the masks. We want to be safe.
“There is no question about (players not wearing masks Monday). I understand that. The story is out there. We just have to determine how to fix it … It wasn’t a Raiders event. We helped put it on. But we obviously take responsibility.”
Full disclosure: I find laughable the directive that coaches and other non-players on sidelines wear masks. It’s a hilariously stupid edict from an NFL trying to dictate its own optics regarding health and safety.
Consider: You have some of the largest and strongest and fastest athletes in the world going 100 miles per hour on each play, hitting each other, sweating on each other, bleeding on each other. But a coach like Jon Gruden of the Raiders who has been tested as often as those same players must wear a mask or be fined $100,000?
On what planet of common sense does that exist?
But outside the field and locker room, the landscape is different. There is no NFL bubble. No hub city. So the potential for positive tests within a team becomes more likely when players choose not to follow NFL and state guidelines when in public. Like some Raiders on Monday.
Even while those players reportedly were socially distanced while seated, there was enough interaction with others that showed a hefty lack of judgment.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is seen on video posing for a picture — after a fist bump — with a gentlemen who apparently bid on and won an autographed jersey. Neither was wearing a mask.
Any potential fines and/or suspensions for the players by the league will be sorted out. DragonRidge was fined $2,000 Tuesday by the city of Henderson for not complying with the governor’s COVID-19 emergency directives.
And given one attendee said it was not required to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire or have one’s temperatures taken upon arrival, the country club got off easy. I mean, what were those folks thinking?
Strangely, though, it just doesn’t seem as if the Raiders get it.
Message seems simply
While a dumb rule, sure, Gruden still knew a mask was required at all times during games. He got popped for $100,000 after “Monday Night Football” here against the Saints. The team is also reportedly under investigation for allowing a non-credentialed team employee into the locker room after that victory. Now, players are violating face covering requirements at a gala put on by one of their own.
I know Davis gets it. Team president Marc Badain gets it. They understand the importance of following guidelines. But somewhere along the line, what would seem a fairly simple message keeps getting lost. Is this really that hard?
“We need to take all the precautions that we can,” Davis said. “You don’t like seeing this.”
You also don’t like seeing what should have been the only story to come out of the gala — Darren Waller as a recovering addict helping young adults who might follow a similar path — being overshadowed by one that never had to occur.
Waller’s teammates were there to support him and the cause. They took of their own time to help raise as much money as possible. But they decided not to wear masks.
Narratives change, sadly so in this instance.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.