WATT'S THE BIG DEAL?
Even J.J. Watt can have a bad take from time to time
For one time, J.J. Watt, the greatest player in Houston's football-crazy history, role model, humanitarian, and game show host … didn't get it right.
Watt is threatening to sit out the 2020 season if the NFL forces him to wear a shield on his helmet as a safety measure against coronavirus. Watt's only objection to wearing a face shield: it's too uncomfortable. You know, the heat and all.
"My second year in the league, I thought it would be cool. I put a visor on my helmet. I was like, 'It looks so cool, I want to put a visor on.' I had it on for about three periods of practice and I said, "Take this sucker off, I'm going to die out here. Just the face one," Watt told Pro Football Talk last week.
"So now you want me to put something around my mouth? No. You can keep that. If that comes into play, I don't think you're going to see me out there on the field."
Even if he's serious about not playing, and there's no reason to doubt Watt's sincerity, this comes off a thoughtless, self-absorbed thing for Watt to say out loud. Will he really sit out an entire NFL season if the league mandates that players wear helmet shields, a piece of equipment meant to keep him safe and healthy from a pandemic that is rampaging the country, particularly the city where Watt plays his home games?
"I'm going to die out there?" Actually, your chances of avoiding coronavirus and not dying are much better if you wear a shield on your helmet. Nobody knows for sure what COVID-19's long-term effects are. Some physicians are saying the virus could damage someone's lungs and kidneys, possibly the brain for a lifetime. If the NFL is doing something to protect its players, just say thank you and wear the shield.
Isn't Watt aware that healthcare workers stand for 10 hours a day in asphalt parking lots that reflect searing 100-degree temperatures, wearing two medical-grade masks and a shield and goggles? These healthcare heroes do it to protect their fellow Houstonians. They don't wear numbers on their overalls, they don't sell merch, and don't wave a flag as they run onto a field to the adulation of 70,000 fans. You don't hear them complaining that hazmat suits can be a little toasty inside.
This just isn't a good look for Watt. He will play most of his games this season indoors, in 72-degree, air-conditioned comfort, in the shade. From a viral infection standpoint, football may be the most dangerous sport, especially for defensive linemen like Watt. When they line up for a play, they're face to face with an opposing player. They're breathing and huffing and puffing into each other's face, which is the No. 1 way to spread coronavirus. During a gang tackle, there are several players sharing inches of air space. Then they go into a huddle where their helmets are practically touching, while the quarterback yells out the next play.
Shields on helmets sure seem like a good idea. Even if you get a little overheated. Better safe than sorry in bed coughing with a fever, missing games.
The NFL's "new normal" will be anything but normal in 2020 – if there is a 2020 season. The country is in the middle of a raging pandemic, hundreds of players and coaches (including Texans coach Bill O'Brien) will take a knee during the national anthem to support Black Lives Matter, and there may not be fans in the stands. This is not the time for Watt to step away from his leadership role, and draw attention to himself by refusing to wear a piece of safety equipment. It will appear selfish and uncaring, and belie Watt's amazing list of accomplishments in Houston. We're talking about a true Texan legend in the making, who has given selflessly for his team and city, who's never backed down when a natural disaster struck our city, who's raised tens of millions for people less fortunate and struggling. He is more than a football player. J.J. Watt is a public servant. He could run – and win – for Houston mayor, Texas governor, who knows what else one day. Please don't go to the wall over a helmet shield.
Watt is due to make $15.5 million this season, that's almost $1 million per game if he plays the Texans' entire 16-game schedule, something he's done only once in the past four seasons. Yes, the Texans may have a decision to make regarding Watt's future with the team at the end of this season, a decision that could be made easier if Watt decides to pass on playing. NFL teams don't seem to mind saying goodbye to their greatest players of all time. You may have noticed there's a new quarterback in Tampa Bay.
Watt's public image is practically a work of art. He always seems to do the right thing, make the right decision on and off the field. He's got an HEB ice cream named after him. He's hosted Saturday Night Live. He's got his own sneaker. Three times NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He shared Sports Illustrated's "Sportsperson of the Year" award with Jose Altuve in 2017.
What will happen if Watt sits out 2020? Years from now, a little boy and his father will stand before Watt's bust at the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The boy may ask, "Daddy, how come J.J.'s plaque says he didn't play any games in 2020? Was he injured?" And dad will answer, "Well … not exactly."
J.J. Watt will play football for the Houston Texans in 2020. The league probably will insist that players wear a protective shield on their helmets, but the design of the shield will be created with the help of players, with comfort a top consideration. It won't look good for Watt to sit out the season.
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