Baltimore Ravens players expressed frustration Wednesday over what has become one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in professional sports.
After their 19-14 road 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. Baltimore was limited to walk-throughs on Monday and Tuesday after being shut out of its facility for five days.
Griffin described the socially distanced walk-throughs as “abnormal” and indicated they weren’t run at full speed. He believes the lack of full practices contributed to his injury 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 DeShon Elliott, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker and cornerback Marcus Peters all suffered 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 that Monday morning before allowing players and coaches to reenter Monday afternoon. The facility remained open until Tuesday at noon. During that time, the Ravens held a walk-through 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’s told to us?,'” Ravens safety Chuck Clark said. “We’ve got to look at some of those things.”
Since Nov. 23, the Ravens have 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 seen that number reduced 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 has been an emotional time for the team, and that everyone was 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.”
Asked if there was concern that any protocol violations would result in discipline from the league, Harbaugh said, “It’s not a time to take the accusatory stance; that’s not the position I would take. I’d take the position that our guys fought like crazy, and I’m proud of what they did.”
There were some players who experienced symptoms, but no one became seriously ill, according to Harbaugh. There were instances where players passed the coronavirus 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 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 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.”