Updated November 26, 2020 - 1:44 pm
It was April 23 when Roger Goodell looked directly into the camera during the virtual NFL draft and, with sad eyes and solemn voice, said all the right things about the deadly pandemic from the sanctuary of his man cave.
The NFL commissioner suggested 40-yard dash times and first-step quickness seemed irrelevant given what those on the front lines and those who had lost loved ones were facing. A website where money could be sent flashed on the screen.
To honor and remember those lost, Goodell asked football fans to join him in observing a moment of silence.
My question now is this: Where have those moments of silence been at NFL games this season?
On that date in April there were more than 800,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 42,000 deaths.
Today it’s north of 12.5 million and 259,000.
This virus has snuffed out more than four times as many American lives as the Vietnam War. Yet the moments of silence for the victims have been too few and too far between.
As the death toll continues to mount and a weary nation prepares to endure Thanksgiving rather than embrace it, it would appear that somebody at NFL headquarters has fumbled the ball.
People are dying. Pass the sweet potatoes.
People are dying. The Lions are getting three points at home.
People are dying. The games go on.
Passing the hat
The games almost always go on in the NFL. They even went on two days after President Kennedy was assassinated. The Eagles and Redskins were among those who sought not to play. But play they did, in front of a crowd of 60,671 (and genuine crowd noise). Every Eagle player contributed $50 to the family of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who also was gunned down by Lee Harvey Oswald.
By comparison, a NFL COVID relief fund has raised more than $7 million. Like these virus statistics, it would seem charitable contributions also have increased exponentially since the Eagles passed the hat around the Franklin Field locker room.
Until you do the math.
If the money raised so far was to be divided equally among the families of those who have died, each would receive about $27.
And yet, many, if not most Americans are pleased when the games go on. Football and other sports provide a diversion, a slice of normalcy during uncertain and difficult times.
But there must be perspective and acknowledgement, too. Without it, the victims are marginalized.
When flames from wildfires near the Oakland Coliseum contributed to more than 40 deaths, the Raiders observed a moment of silence before a 2017 game against the Chargers.
For 40 deaths. Now we’re at 259,000, including more than 2,000 in Southern Nevada.
Perspective is called for.
Emails were sent to the NFL office in New York and Raiders owner Mark Davis to inquire about the apparent callousness. Only one response was received. It was from the guy responsible for shining 58 beams of light into the sky above Las Vegas to honor the Route 91 Harvest music festival victims during the Allegiant Stadium groundbreaking.
“We have honored first responders, who lit the Al Davis torch for the second game of the season,” wrote Davis whose Raiders, with the exception of taking COVID protocol more seriously, have made all the right moves both on and the field since relocating. Such as Wednesday, when the Raiders and Smith’s teamed to deliver 600 Thanksgiving food boxes to families in need.
“But we were still in the middle of fighting this war. From the Raiders’ standpoint, we’ll honor the victims once we’ve won the war.”
Perhaps Joseph Stalin was right. A tyrannical dictator normally is not a man one turns to when perspective about death and empathy are being discussed. But it is Stalin who is most credited for the axiom that “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.”
Many believe the Mad Russian may have been referring to hunger instead of death. In this case, both apply.
If this vaccine is as good as advertised, hopefully we’ll never get to a million COVID deaths. But the grim reality is that there will be far too many empty chairs at the head of the table this Thanksgiving. A kids’ table probably won’t be required, at least not by families abiding by the CDC guidelines or those in cars lined up for miles at feed banks after having been laid off from jobs.
For those families, there may be no sweet potatoes to pass.
But if a moment of silence to remember the COVID-19 victims is out of the question this Thanksgiving, would a small helmet decal be too much to ask?
How to help
Football fans wishing to make a donation to the NFL’s COVID-19 relief fund can do so by visiting the league’s website and clicking on https://relief.nfl.com/