Some Baltimore Ravens players expressed frustration Wednesday over what has become one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in professional sports.
After Wednesday’s 19-14 loss to the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore players questioned a lack of preparation as well as some of the NFL’s decisions during a time when at least one Ravens player tested positive for 10 straight days.
“It’s not about whether or not guys want to play,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said after filling in for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who tested positive last week. “It’s about whether or not our safety is actually being taken into account. I can’t say much more than that.”
The Ravens-Steelers game, which was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night, was played six days later after three postponements. The last postponement came after the Ravens players said in a Monday teleconference that they didn’t want to play the game on Tuesday because of safety concerns, a source said. The source added that one suggestion from the players was to move the game to Thursday, but the NFL compromised by shifting it to Wednesday.
Baltimore was limited to walkthroughs on Monday and Tuesday after being shut out of its facility for five days. Griffin called the socially distanced walkthroughs “abnormal” and weren’t run at full speed. He believes the lack of full practices contributed to him injuring himself in the second quarter.
“I pulled a hamstring today,” Griffin said. “I’ve never pulled a hamstring in my life. You see guys going down left and right.”
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith left with a groin injury in the second quarter. Defensive end Derek Wolfe, safety DeShone Elliott offensive tackle D.J. Fluker and cornerback Marcus Peters all sustained injuries but returned.
Another issue that Ravens players had was with the decision to reopen the team facility. After two Baltimore players tested positive following an overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 22, the NFL closed the Ravens facility Monday morning before allowing players and coaches to re-enter Monday afternoon. The facility remained open until Tuesday at noon. During that time, the Ravens held a walkthrough with players wearing masks.
“I don’t know what comes with me saying this, but, of course, on Monday and Tuesday, we’re wondering, ‘Why were we allowed back in the building if we say everything is based off contact tracing and things like that, and that’s what told to us?,'” Ravens safety Chuck Clark said. “We’ve got to look at some of those things.”
Other players who praised the Ravens organization for their handling of the situation.
“Everyone in the Ravens organization did the best thing for player safety they possibly could and to make sure this game happened,” guard Bradley Bozeman said. “The players wanted it to happen. The coaches wanted it to happen. But we were also concerned with safety, and I think they all did a really good job handling it.”
Said linebacker Tyus Bowser: “When you deal with something like this … we had a couple concerns. But I just know, with our president Dick Cass, [general manager] Eric DeCosta and Coach Harbaugh, they had our best interest, and they were trying to do everything they could to get us ready for this game.”
Since Nov. 23, the Ravens placed a total of 23 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list for either testing positive or being identified as a high-risk close contact. Baltimore has reduced that list to 17 players now, but it had to promote 10 players from the practice squad Wednesday to fill out a 48-man game-day roster.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it was an emotional time for the team and everyone did their best to be transparent and honest in answering the players’ questions.
“I just feel like the league did their best. We did our best,” Harbaugh said. “We didn’t bat 1.000; nobody did. The league didn’t, nobody did. You can’t bat 1.000 against this thing. But I think our response, in terms of our effort, was a perfect effort.”
There were some players who experienced symptoms but no one became seriously ill, according to Harbaugh. Infected players passed the virus to family members, Griffin said.
“Those things don’t get reported,” Griffin said. “So, when people think, ‘Oh. Maybe they just don’t want to play. They just don’t want to do this.’ It’s not that – we love football. We want to play football, but we also want to make sure our families are safe.” Jackson, who tested positive on Thanksgiving, will complete his 10-day quarantine on Saturday. If he tests negative, he would be available to play in Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.
“He’s in good spirits,” said Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, who is Jackson’s close friend. “He told us to go out there and try to win this game. Just wishing for a speedy recovery for him.”