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Eisenberg: This Will Be a Season Unlike Any Other

Ravens huddle after practice
Ravens huddle after practice

Remember pro football? That game the Ravens play?

The sport is so much in the news right now because of its front-and-center role in the social justice protests occurring across America.

It also expects to stage a season in a few months even as the people running the National Football League tackle fundamental questions such as how to keep the players and coaches safe and how many fans, if any, can attend due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There's no shortage of conversation about pro football right now, but if you hadn't noticed, almost none of it is about football itself, the actual game.

Debates about blocking, tackling and run-pass-option plays have taken a back seat to discussions about how the players might make their protest voices heard and how the league can establish safety protocols that result in a healthy season for all involved.

As those subjects carry on, it suddenly seems like years ago that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson won the league Most Valuable Player award by a unanimous vote. That was in February.

These days, it just doesn't feel quite right to be taking our usual, deep dive into matters of football … the game.

Not that there's anything wrong with calling a timeout and using some of your mental bandwidth to consider who might start at center for the Ravens or, say, how much their rookie receivers might bolster the passing game. I'll be doing all that here soon enough.

For now, though, more pressing matters have elbowed those concerns to the shadows. Big-picture, life-and-death matters have taken over the football news cycle.

The calendar is one reason for that. Unlike other sports, pro football wasn't in season when the coronavirus struck. And it's still not in season as protests sparked by the death of George Floyd unfold across America. So we aren't actually missing anything.

But behind closed doors, the Ravens and the NFL's 31 other teams are busily conducting virtual offseason programs and hoping they'll receive clearance to gather for training camps per usual next month. Ever so slowly, the 2020 season is starting to come into view.

In a few months, the league will reach the centennial of its founding on September 17, 1920, when a dozen or so team owners met on the floor of an auto showroom in Canton, Ohio, and agreed to band together. (They all chipped in a few hundred bucks as a show of good faith.) The NFL has staged a season every year since then, even during the Great Depression and World War II, and it surely will do so again this year.

But it'll be an NFL season unlike any of the 100 that preceded it.

I'm trying to picture coaches and referees seeking to safely social-distance on the field while the players run around wearing helmets with facemasks comprised of N95 material.

I'm trying to picture a league with a player population that is nearly 70 percent African-American peacefully protesting for social justice reform in stadiums that are all but empty.

Turbulent times are ferrying the NFL into unusual predicaments and uncharted waters, although the league is no different from many other institutions and industries in that respect. Eventually, though, we'll get back to the subject of NFL football … the game.

It might pale in importance next to the sober realities of racial strife and a health pandemic, but the public is excited for it, craving it, anticipating it, honestly, with little regard for how it unfolds, just that it does.

We'll get back to obsessing over blocking and tackling and RPO plays. If anything, it might offer a safe space for some people who feel the world has come unhinged at times; a world that surely will look and feel different going forward.

An NFL season is one of America's touchstones, a passion shared across all boundaries of race, culture and class. It will be different in 2020, but it'll still be embraced and enjoyed, voraciously consumed. Just you watch. (I know you will.)

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