Browns center, NFLPA president JC Tretter says players face ‘long list of hurdles’ amid coronavirus pandemic

JC Tretter isn’t willing to publicly quantify his level of optimism that an NFL season will be held in 2020.

The starting center of the Browns and new president of the NFL Players Association said the COVID-19 pandemic has created too many unknowns to speculate about what football will look like as the year unfolds.

“This is a contact disease, and we play a contact sport,” Tretter said Tuesday during a Zoom video conference with Browns beat writers.

“You can’t expect just to throw football back in and think that the virus is going to kneel down to almighty football. You have to look through different ways of making sure people stay healthy.”

Some NFL teams began reopening their facilities Tuesday, but players and coaches still aren’t permitted at club headquarters, all of which had been shut down since late March.

Meanwhile, Browns staffers continue to work remotely while the organization works through finalizing its reopening plans.

The NFL’s voluntary virtual offseason program is scheduled to run through May 29, but the league has already extended it once and could do so again.

The Browns are slated to begin training camp in late July, kick off the preseason August 15 and start the regular season Sept. 13.

In a memo NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent to the 32 teams last week, he wrote the league is working with the NFLPA “on developing protocols that could permit a certain number of players to return to club facilities as early as next month.”

However, Tretter explained “there’s a long list of hurdles” that need to be cleared before players will be comfortable returning to work in the traditional sense, let alone playing in games.

“There’s a level of risk of everything,” Tretter said. “You’re facing a level of risk right now going to the grocery store. There’s always going to be a level of exposure that people are going to face in this. So I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where there’s no risk of exposure.

“Coming in contact with other people is a risk of exposure. So that’s never going to be down to zero. Our job [at the NFLPA] is to try to get that to as close to zero as possible, and that’s why you kind of have to look at everything.”

Tretter said “obviously testing is going to have to be real important” for the league to charge ahead with a season. But Tretter also repeatedly stressed the importance of being open to new ideas.

NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer told ESPN’s Adam Schefter this week on Schefter’s podcast that the league is partnering with Oakley to explore the possibility of designing face masks with surgical or N95 material.

“I think there’s no bad idea at this point, and you kind of have to think outside the box,” Tretter said when asked about the innovative face mask concept. “And just ’cause it’s an idea doesn’t mean things are definitely going to happen, but you need to explore it, and you need to understand it.”

Tretter, who earned a degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University, said he decided to run for NFLPA president right after this past season ended. He was elected in March shortly before the players approved a new collective bargaining agreement in a close vote.

Since the global health crisis has changed everyday life, Tretter has been involved with biweekly conference calls the union has held for players and their wives to address COVID-19 concerns.

“Our priority is always going to be the health and safety of the players, and usually when you say that, you mean things that happen on the field,” Tretter said. “Obviously, it kind of takes a new meaning with everything going on now.

“The emphasis is always on the elderly population and the effects of the virus, but there are a lot of people with underlying conditions inside our league. People see professional athletes as kind of these invincible robots where they’re just kind of always in the best shape and there’s no chink in the armor, but that’s not really the case.”

Tretter said he thinks the league and NFLPA reaching an agreement about returning to the field is “still a ways out.” But he also pointed out the two sides have time on their side.

Meanwhile, he’s not putting “a percentage” or “a level” on how likely playing football in the fall will be.

“There’s really no reason to live in a lot of different hypotheticals, or else I feel like you kind of get paralyzed in those hypotheticals, keep going down different rabbit holes and you kind of just lose track of the now,” Tretter said. “So I’ve been trying to live in two-week increments.”

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