Browns C JC Tretter on Covid-19 Situation in NFL

On his confidence that the NFL’s and NFLPA’s changes to the COVID-19 protocols will help mitigate the spread the virus across the league:

“It has been a busy last seven days really, and you have to balance a lot of different things. You have to figure out kind of the best path forward. You have to figure out how we get out of the mess we were in last week across the league. You have to listen to the membership. You have to understand where the NFL stands on the issues. You have to try and find the best landing spot for how to accomplish all of the things you want to accomplish. I think what is clear, if we just start from the beginning, is our position since July was that daily testing was the best option. We have been pretty adamant about that. I think if you look at what we did last year and the amount of positives we had last year versus this year, I think it is tough to deny that daily testing was not a huge component of our success last year. The NFL has never been a supporter of daily testing. They were not a supporter of daily testing last year. We had to force their hand to get daily testing last year. Fast forward now of multiple months into the season, we have the issue we were facing last week. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out where everybody stands on the issues. Our membership felt like the vast majority of them have done everything that has been asked of them. They have gotten vaccinated. They feel like they did not want more testing. They did not want more stringent protocols. The majority of our membership wanted to begin living – in this pandemic as a new variant has come out that is more mild though more contagious – that was the position of the majority of our membership. However, we still had a minority of our membership that do not just want to walk into buildings without any checks or balances of what is going on inside. It is obviously not an easy balancing act of figuring out how to go forward through. Knowing that, we tried to come up with the best path forward to provide options to everybody. We obviously had the opt out, and then we obviously provided ways for people to make their choices of how they wanted to live moving forward. Unless you are in a current outbreak, there are no heavy restrictions on the protocols, but we have provided obviously anybody can wear a mask in the facility and anybody can accept virtual meetings. Those are optional for any player to make an individual decision. If they want to begin spending less time at the facilities for the rest of the season, you have that choice. You have the option to test every day. You have the option for take-home tests for your families. Our goal in the end was providing all groups of players their options for how they wanted to move forward the rest of the season.”

On if he is confident that additional NFL games will not be postponed, given other sports leagues are postponing or cancelling games:

“I do not know about that. Like you said, it has been a trying week or two weeks for everybody. This is a new variant. When COVID first happened, we had six months to kind of figure it out and figure out a path forward. In this instance, we had about six days to figure it out. It is not an easy answer to make. Last week, to go to your question, the issue was not about how many guys we got back. Our position as a union is that we fight for wages, benefits and working conditions, and we do not worry about competitive balance, we do not worry about standings and we do not worry about roster composition. We worry about those three things. The NFL’s position last week was that those three games were going to be cancelled. They were not going to be played, and if they were not played, then nobody on either team was going to be paid. That obviously is an issue for us as a union when over 18 percent of our player population was at risk of not getting paid last week. Our position was that we needed to make sure all games are played in order for our guys to get paid, and that was our position. We took a vote with the executive committee of the union, which voted unanimously that our position needed to be that games needed to be rescheduled and not cancelled, and we pushed the league for that resolution.”

On if he is satisfied with the resolution and if there were any ways to mitigate the high number of positive COVID-19 results across the league in recent weeks, including among the Browns:

“I think that is the proof that weekly testing was never a successful model, especially now with this new variant. Weekly testing – like we have been talking about for months now – allows the virus to spread all throughout the week, and then you get to Monday, and it lets you know, ‘Hey, you have a huge problem on your hands. You have to bail yourself out of it.’ It was never a model that was going to succeed, especially now that we have a more contagious variant out there. When it comes to are we happy, it is what our rules were at the time and figuring out how to get past it. There are no good options. Last week was a lot of figuring out the two issues, like I said: one, how do we get through this week? How do we figure out this season? As you guys saw, we went back to the intensive protocols temporarily. That was a decision we made because we had three teams that games were very much in risk or trending to being cancelled, and we still had other teams testing positive and putting more games in doubt. We knew it was not popular amongst the players to roll back the protocols, but we knew we needed to buy ourselves time in order to get ahead of it and avoid any other problems that last week before we could come to a better solution moving forward. As we have seen in other sports leagues, there is no perfect answer. This is still an evolving situation. In the end, I think we have done all we can do to figure out last week and then move forward.”

On if there will be additional adjustments to the COVID-19 protocols moving forward or if these will be in place for the rest the season:

“I do not think you can never you say you are not going to do that. This is something, as we have seen for two years now, I think you always leave the options to make changes if you need to do it, but as of now, this is how we are moving forward.”

On if NFL players are no longer allowed to attend public gatherings like sporting events similar to last year or if that restriction has been lifted with the new COVID-19 protocols:

“That was when we rolled back to the intensive protocols in order to make sure we settled everything down last week. Now, we have moved forward. Only if your team is in the middle of an outbreak are you under those intensive protocols. If not, you are in protocols s very similar to the beginning of this year and how we have gone forward before the beginning of last week.”

On if he feels as safe being around team members with the targeted testing compared to weekly testing:

“I have been boostered. I am vaccinated. I will be wearing a mask around the facility. I will be choosing to meet virtually. This week, we will continue meeting virtually anyways, but I will be taking my meetings virtually. That is just something that I would like to do to feel more comfortable. I know there are a lot of guys around the league who will make the choice, as well. That was really our goal was providing guys choices on how to get through the rest of the season. I have said it before, our membership is a microcosm of the country. We have people who are ready to move forward who have done everything that has been asked of them, they have gotten vaccinated and made those decisions, and now, they want to start feeling like, ‘You know what? I am not at risk of serious illness because of my vaccine status. I have done what they have said, and now, I am ready to go back to somewhat normalcy.’ Then we still have guys who do not want to get COVID and still want to live a more cautious lifestyle. Now, everybody has those choices.”

On if he is confident that targeted testing is a legitimate process for identifying individuals who may have COVID-19 or if the goal is to have as few positive test results as possible:

“I think we saw yesterday that we still had quite a few. The message [of public perception] was ‘we are not testing anymore.’ We are still targeted testing, which is a random draw of players and staff through the building; we are still testing the high-risk contacts; we still have voluntary testing; we still have testing for unvaccinated; and we still have testing for symptomatic; so we are still doing quite a bit of testing. Yesterday and the day before, we still had quite a few positives that we have to continue to monitor around the league to make sure everything goes accordingly and everybody stays safe.”

On his experience last week both as NFLPA President and a member of the Browns as there were a number of positive COVID-19 results across the league and on his team:

“I am glad I do not pay my cell phone bill by the minute anymore or else I would be in trouble financially (laughter). It was a busy week. It was tiring, and I think this has been exhausting on everybody and it has been difficult on everybody. We had to make very difficult decisions last week with not a lot of time to make them. I give a ton of credit to our staff and our other player leaders who had to be involved in these discussions and tried to make the best decisions moving forward. It was definitely a very long week – probably the longest week of my tenure at that position.”

On some Raiders players voicing their displeasure on social media about the game being postponed, including some indicating his role as NFLPA President and the decision was being impacted by the fact he was a member of the Browns:

“I reached out to a couple of guys on the Raiders. I think the thing that people did not understand was that I was fighting for the same thing for the Browns players as I was for the Raiders players, and that was to get paid. That is my job as president. I was elected by the players to represent all of the players. I do not think everybody was fully aware of just how close those games were to being cancelled. I do not think everybody was fully aware that if cancelled, they were not going to get paid – both teams were not going to get paid. I think that was news to some people. Once they understood that fact, I think guys started to realize what exactly we as a union were fighting for. Again, I do not make decisions by myself. We have the executive committee, like I said, who voted unanimously to make those same decisions, which we went to the league to fight for. We had everybody kind of give their opinion on what we needed to do moving forward, and we executed those goals.”

On if teams would have had to forfeit in the event games were cancelled last week:

“That is not a decision or an answer for us. That would be for the league on how they were going to handle it. In the end, we did not want either way – if the game is not played, cancelled, forfeited or whatever word you want to use for it – the guys were not going to get paid, and that is what we were concerned about.”

On not necessarily being fully aware as NFLPA President of whether or not the games would have been forfeited by teams if cancelled last week:

“They were going to be cancelled. Again, that is not my concern. I do not worry about standings, I do not worry about record and I do not worry about those things as president. I worry about making sure our guys are paid, and that was my concern.”

On balancing his and the NFLPA’s stance on daily testing compared to that of the majority of NFLPA player membership:

“My job as an elected representative is to represent all players. That does not mean they always agree with what I think is best. That was what a lot of the phone calls last week were – reaching out to players across the league to see what they wanted and to see what their lockers rooms wanted. As the country is, there are a lot of different opinions on what is best moving forward. We have a wide-ranging group of people on beliefs on how we go forward for the rest of the season and moving forward. It is my job to sit back with all of that information and find a path forward that gives everybody what they want or something they want. That is obviously not easy in these situations where there is no answer that gives everybody 100 percent what they want. That is our job as the union is representing what our players want, working with experts still to provide them the information and then executing what they ask of us. It is not an easy job, but I think in the end, we did do what guys wanted to do.”

On confusion about the testing procedures with the Browns and two other NFL teams last Thursday:

“All of last week, especially as we got to the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, was a hectic couple of days. As we were going back and forth, the league and PA, like I said, we were trying to balance two things: what do we do with the current situations we had at three clubs and what do we do moving forward. Our position at the PA was if we have an ongoing outbreak, we can’t stop that. We have to continue to see our way through that and make sure we provide all of the checks that we need to. In the end, that is what we ended up doing.”

More on the Browns testing after practice last Thursday:

“I think I will talk about it again, everybody was frustrated and exhausted trying to figure their way through it. Obviously, we were frustrated as a team. We were frustrated as a player body. Everybody was on angst, and we were doing a ton of work behind the scenes trying to figure a way out of the situation we were in. In the end, there definitely was some confusion going back and forth, but in the end, we did what we were supposed to do. Everybody tested, and we made sure we continued to see the outbreak through to the end.”

On if fewer Browns players may have potentially tested positive last week if the team had tested in the morning on Thursday rather than after practice:

“It is tough to know. With the incubation period, I am not sure how related our positives were, especially with players. I know we had a couple pop that day. Those would not be from any exchanges that day, and the next day, usually you are pretty sure those are not from any interactions the previous day. I would have to go back and look and check the data on that, but I am not sure many are related. We did a really good job of spacing out. Our lockers were moved out to the field house with plenty of space in between. We changed, and we went outside. What we have seen for the last two years is we have not found an instance of transmission outdoors while playing. We were not in the building meeting or sitting around or in the locker room so I think overall, even testing after practice, it is not like we were in an unsafe environment before those tests.”

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