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Foolish Denial: Saban And King Football Vs. Covid

Between the coaching legend’s hypocrisy and the NFL’s games-first stance in plowing through daily infections, the sport still isn’t taking the pandemic seriously enough — as consequences await.

Jay Mariotti

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Nick Saban

Now that they’ve turned the coronavirus into an intercollegiate sport — Nick Saban rallies late to thwart the nasal swabs! — and now that NFL teams routinely play games just days or hours after closing facilities, we see what the football megalomaniacs are doing now.     

They are raising fists, thrusting middle fingers higher than the heavens and telling all health-minded Americans to bug off, that they have important work to do the next few months. This work is so critical to humankind that Saban had a state trooper meet him at his home after the coach’s “fifth consecutive negative” COVID-19 test, that according to the Alabama team physician, who, of course, couldn’t have reported otherwise without Saban firing him on the spot. The state trooper then escorted St. Nick from “self-isolation,” which involved Zoom-spying on his team every day and night, over to the team hotel so he could join meetings seven full hours before Alabama played Georgia, a game that never, ever could have proceeded without Saban on the sideline.     

Nick Saban: Alabama football coach tests positive for Covid-19 - CNN

Most anywhere else in America, a 68-year-old man who tests positive is quarantined for at least 14 days as an elevated risk, which protects him and others from spread. In the warped and corrupt sphere of college football, the athletic conference grounded in the country’s virus-dumbest region — the Southeast — already had devised a farcical and nakedly suspicious plan to cover coaches in case of a “nuisance” such as a positive test. Never mind that Saban looks like a complete fraud and hypocrite after imploring people all summer to wear masks and even scolding the school mascot, Big Al, for not covering up. Never mind that Saban, if he was sincere about COVID, would have responsibly stayed home and allowed the able Steve Sarkisian to take over. His ego needed to coach. Alabama needed him to coach. CBS needed him to coach and drive prime-time ratings.     

So he relied on a nine-day-old combination of hokum to clear him: The Southeastern Conference’s “Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Test Force Protocol,” in conjunction with “The University of Alabama System Health and Safety Task Force,” indicated Saban was given five tests via two labs after his positive test on Wednesday — and all magically turned up clean. The final test was flown by private jet to to an “SEC-approved lab” in Mobile, which, in case we’re supposed to be impressed, happens to be in Alabama. “Out of an abundance of caution,” said the school statement, which smacks of, “Oh, we really didn’t have to do all of this, but we’re covering ourselves in case those fancy, big-city doctors scold us.”     

And when his return to the sideline finally was complete, with Alabama upholding its No. 2 ranking in a 41-24 win, what did Saban do? He DANCED WITH HIS PLAYERS, WITHOUT HIS MASK, INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM — as captured in a Twitter video since deleted by his staff — before, ahem, voicing appropriate fear for the virus. His words didn’t reflect his actions.  

“I think I gained a lot of respect (for COVID) thinking I had this even though we’ve done everything to set a good example relative to social distancing, wearing the mask, washing hands,” Saban said. “I think everybody should have the proper respect because, I’m gonna tell you, when they tell you that you’ve tested positive, that’s not a good feeling. Now I wasn’t sick. All right?”  

Sure, Nick, sure. Whatever you say. After all, you’re bigger than life.     

On the same weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars became the latest NFL team to shut down their building after a positive test. But because the infected person was a practice-squad player, the Jaguars quickly said their Sunday home game wouldn’t be impacted — despite the 12 practice-squad players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Aren’t they in the same facility as active roster players, coaches and team personnel? This as the New England Patriots, already slammed by the Cam Newton-Stephon Gilmore virus whammy, were placing four players on the COVID-19 list — including starting guard Shaq Mason and running back Sony Michel — after another player tested positive. Not that it stopped an already-postponed home game with Denver from happening — and Newton from devolving into a turnover machine in a bad loss. Until now, the NFL needed only one positive test to move games. Now, the league is coldly trudging forward with the schedule, virus be damned.     

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Didn’t the Tennessee Titans assume they’d be safe after a solo positive test late last month, only to play matador to a massive virus outbreak that eventually infected 24 people and played havoc with the NFL schedule? Are we expected to just forget and ignore the league’s numerous fires, which suggest more NFL outbreaks are inevitable as cold weather emerges and COVID cases rise to national levels not seen since July?     

That’s what King Football would like America to do. Shut up, sit back and be happy that we still have games to watch, while the NFL makes its billions, the Power Five conferences make theirs and broadcast networks make theirs. Think about whether it’s Russell Wilson’s year in the NFC, or if Tampa Bay’s trash-talk riddling of Aaron Rodgers gives Tom Brady a shot to join the Rays and Lightning in a pandemic title threesome (no chance). Ponder whether the rejuvenated, balanced Steelers can upend the Chiefs in the AFC, as they head to Nashville next weekend for an early showdown. And why the interim Texans coach, Romeo Crennel, blew a game when he eschewed an extra point (it would have put his team up by eight) and chose a two-point conversion that failed, allowing Derrick Henry and the Titans an opening they seized. In college ball, fantasize about — ugh — yet another Clemson-Alabama rematch, about the only decipherable projection for a four-team playoff amid out-of-whack schedules and belated Big Ten and Pac-12 starts. They want us to appreciate, you know, the entertainment.    

So what if they get us all infected? So what if they’re falling victim to virus impatience and fatigue at the absolute wrong time? So what if we have no idea if they’re being transparent about test results — positive, negative, false positive — with huge money on the table? So what if the host of the NFL’s ever-popular “Red Zone” show, Andrew Siciliano, missed work for the first time in 15 years because he has COVID? What if Saban still had the virus? He could have passed it on to players, who could have passed it on to loved ones and other students on a campus already ravaged.     

They’re trying to wear us down, of course, like a strong running game, only through denial and deceit. I don’t know how many times I have to write it: Without the use of Bubbles — and the NFL reiterated it has no plans to move to a restrictive environment — football is dangerously pushing its luck by not pausing seasons, waiting until someone becomes seriously ill as a result of this self-serving delusion.     

And even then, it probably would take someone to die before these commissioners, from the NFL’s Roger Goodell to the SEC’s double-talking Greg Sankey, think about stopping a season. At least the players are being paid in the NFL. College players not only are assuming health risks without pay, they’re being brainwashed by masculinity-related pressures within the system — sit and you’re less of a man — if not overtly then subtly. In the SEC, I’m not sure if anyone would care if a kid died from COVID. That’s how blind they are to the pandemic, as enabled by President Trump. This is the league where Ed Orgeron, coach of defending national champion LSU, thinks most of his players have contracted the virus — though he isn’t sure — and openly hopes they achieve herd immunity. This is the league where Georgia coach Kirby Smart, interviewed before the Alabama game in a stadium with only 21,000 fans, said, “It’ll be a raucous environment’’ … before catching himself. This is the league where Florida coach Dan Mullen sounded brain-dead when he demanded The Swamp be packed with 90,000 breathing, expectorating fans for an LSU game that thankfully didn’t happen — it was postponed when the Gators, pounded by a virus breakout, didn’t have enough scholarship players.     

“Coaches sometimes say things outside of their area of expertise,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “And they’re really good at what they do. Dan is really good at calling ball plays.”

Mullen also is really good at playing the fool — he, too, eventually tested positive for COVID, finally conceding, “I am proud of how our players, staff and campus community have navigated this unprecedented time and hope all continue to be safe.”     

One Week After Wanting to Pack the Swamp, Florida Coach Dan Mullen  Announces He Has COVID-19 | Bleacher Nation

This is the league where Sankey, the boss, is a flim-flam man. He keeps scolding SEC programs for “not following proper COVID-19 protocols” and threatening $100,000 weekly fines, writing in a memo, “Do not relax — and do not let those around you relax — because of a few weeks of success.” He did sock Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Tennessee with financial penalties for mask violations, yet on a weekend when two conference games were postponed, Sankey let Saban jump out of quarantine and into his sideline windbreaker in no time. By coaching only hours after testing positive, then dancing maskless with his players afterward, Saban was setting a lousy example for the millions watching the game — the same lousy example set by the rest of college football and the NFL.     

Too many Americans are thinking now, “Hey, if Saban was back in three days and all of these NFL games are happening despite daily positive tests, how serious could this stupid virus be? It’s a hoax!” And anyone who thinks the recklessness will change if Joe Biden is the president doesn’t know the stubbornness of a football coach, player or fan. Or the irresponsibility of a broadcast network, a betting operation or anyone else who makes money off a football season amid a pandemic.     

Decades from now, assuming Planet Earth hasn’t imploded, scholars will look back at 2020 and ask, “Why were those men and boys playing football and perpetuating spread?” In a world presumably more health-conscious by then, they’ll be appalled to learn it was about money and money only. The university presidents who are supposed to teach and protect young people only put them at risk. And the NFL, which foolishly thought the virus would have subsided by now, is presiding over a tsunami, callously rescheduling games while advertisers squirm, wondering when a tenuous landscape will explode. The league, in a cosmetic attempt to show it is serious, is forcing players and team staff members with any symptoms to go home, with the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills explaining, “Because there’s so much overlap (in symptoms), we have to assume it could be COVID.” All of which only will dilute the quality of play, already suspect in a league of calamitous injuries — be well, Dak Prescott — and all-time record scoring that seems kind of phony. Yes, we love spectacular offenses. No, we don’t like defenses that can’t tackle or scheme.     

In a country where 46 states and the nation’s capital are experiencing COVID surges, as we near the holidays amid a creeping reality that THIS is our world now, these crazy men are still trying to wedge in football games. It’s easy for NFL owners and university administrators to stay inside their bunkers and preside over bank deposits. It’s easy for broadcast executives to sit in their handsome homes and feel good that the lights are still on. But who’s thinking about the players? Or the long-term ramifications of COVID, including a mysterious brain fog that some survivors compare to dementia?    

The attitudes won’t change when the Titans, Team COVID, are 5-0 and actually taking football inspiration from those 24 positive tests. Said quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “What this team and this organization has been through, to really fight that off, shake that off … I think it makes a statement.”     

Shake it off? That quickly, a coronavirus outbreak is nothing but a Taylor Swift song?     

Nor will the attitudes change after Nick Saban — for all we know, still carrying an infectious disease — bursts from his house and whips those Bulldogs just as he whipped that ol’ virus. “I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the unbelievable number of people who texted or sent prayers,” he said. “It was just phenomenal and I believe in things like that so I think all of that helped. I’d like to thank all those people for their support and help and the relationships and people I know all over the United States — calling, checking, texting. It’s heartfelt, and I really appreciate it.”     

And his players? “They handled the disruption really well,’” he said.     

Don't Bet Against Nick Saban Coaching Alabama Against Georgia Even After  Positive Covid-19 Test

The football victory, you see, is all that matters in life.     

Even if it leads to the symptoms of death.

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BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

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Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

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