NFL's return is stumbling out of the gate

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Good morning, friends! Guess what: another sport, another possibility for labor strife. Sorry.

Remember back in March and April, when we all said the NFL was the beneficiary of the calendar in the coronavirus pandemic? While basketball and hockey saw their seasons smashed like a pumpkin hit by a locomotive, and while baseball couldn't even find the runway, much less take off, the NFL sat back with the luxury of time on its hands. The league pulled off a well-received virtual draft, and then turned its eyes to the fall, where it would ride back into the American consciousness on a wave of goodwill.

Or so we thought. 

We're now just hours away from training camps opening, and we still don't know such basic information as, oh, how many preseason games will be played, or how the NFL will even test its players for COVID-19. 

This slapdash approach to a season's start is, as you might imagine, of great concern to the NFL's players. Granted, they're members of one of the weakest unions in sports, but NFL players still have one important weapon on their side: They know just how much this country loves its football.

Over the weekend, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, JJ Watt, Richard Sherman, Patrick Mahomes and others took issue with the NFL rejecting the advice of its own medical experts and shortening a proposed 21-day “acclimation period” in order to accommodate more preseason games. Using the hashtag #WeWantToPlay, stars from across the league took to social media to plead their case. 

This isn't a situation of NFL players being greedy or timid. There are legitimate health issues at play here, not just for the players but for their families. (And lest anyone start with the “it's just the flu” routine, check out how the virus leveled Freddie Freeman, one of baseball's premier athletes. Sure, it probably won't affect many people, especially young and healthy athletes, that way. But it can, and if it does ... )

The NFL and its owners have created a magnificent product, and they're not foolish people. But what's worked for other crises — simply hammering forward with the overwhelming force that comes from being an American institution — won't work here. The coronavirus has stacked the line. Like it or not, the owners are going to need to script a more sophisticated game plan. And they're going to have to do it fast. 

You want the NFL back. I want the NFL back. The players and owners want the NFL back. But until everyone gets on the same page ... the NFL ain't coming back. 

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Training camps might look a little different this year. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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