The Unseen Struggle of the Ravens' COVID-19 Outbreak

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QB Robert Griffin III

Willie Snead IV is made for the Ravens-Steelers rivalry – a gritty, passionate player who doesn't back down from anything.

Problem is, COVID-19 doesn't care. The Ravens wide receiver was stuck in his basement as Baltimore and Pittsburgh kicked off, after three postponements, Wednesday afternoon.

Like all other Ravens fans, he was stuck displaying his emotion with exclamation points on Twitter.

The Ravens still have 17 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after an outbreak last week. As multiple players said after Sunday's 19-14 loss, it was the strangest week of their football lives – virtual meetings, hardly any practice, not knowing when (or if) the game would even be played.

On top of it all, there was also the very human element of what happens when nearly two dozen of your teammates are impacted by COVID-19 – whether with positive tests or as high-risk close contacts – and you're worried about yourself and your family. That is the part that often gets overlooked.

It's about more than just whether a player will miss a game, or how many games. It's about dealing with a disease that has killed more than 276,000 Americans and is surging once again.

After the Ravens' comeback attempt in Pittsburgh fell short and Snead no longer had anything to cheer about on TV, that feeling set in. It's about more than football.

In his opening statement following Wednesday's game, Head Coach John Harbaugh thanked everybody involved over the past 10 days for the way they "fought through this really unique deal." He fielded questions about the logistics of how the team handled the outbreak.

Then Harbaugh was asked how the players who tested positive for COVID-19 were feeling.

"I appreciate that question. That's a great question," Harbaugh said. "They're doing well. There's a lot of challenges with this thing, and it hits different guys different ways. I don't feel like anybody has been really hit with the type of things that would really be serious. It's always serious, but in the kind of the way that you would really be worried.

"But it affects families. It doesn't just affect the guys; it affects the families of the guys. That's the thing that really is hard. We just want everybody to get healthy. We want them to take care of themselves. They get healthy and want to take care of each other, we really do. We're doing everything we can to take care of each other and take care of the guys and their family members who get affected by this. That's been the biggest challenge."

Quarterback Robert Griffin III and his wife, Grete, have two young girls at home. With Lamar Jackson on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, it was Griffin's chance in the spotlight. He was in line to play in his first high-stakes game since 2016 – a huge moment for a former No. 2-overall pick yearning to be a starter again someday.

But as much as Griffin wanted to play, he revealed after Wednesday night's game that life wasn't easy on the home front trying to navigate the challenges.

"Because of this huge outbreak that we had within our team, it does make – to be honest with you – wives, family members, it makes them upset," Griffin said.

"I think the main thing that needs to be put in perspective is this isn't just about football. This is about guys' families. This is about their wives and their children and anybody else that is in close contact with them at home. So, when we get a call saying that one of our players is positive, a million things run through your mind. It's not whether you're going to be able to play, or whether you test positive, it's a matter of, 'Is this going to affect my family?'"

Like his teammates who spoke after Wednesday's game, Griffin reiterated how much he wanted to play the game against the Steelers. But he also wanted to make sure he could do it safely – for himself and his family.

"We're football players, and everyone looks at us a little bit differently, and they just tell you, 'Go be a football player,'" Griffin said. "But at the end of the day, we have families, we have people that we love, and we don't want to get them sick. A lot of our players who have tested positive, their family members have also tested positive. Those things don't get reported.

"At the end of the day, just because you're a football player doesn't mean you're not human." 

As Harbaugh said, COVID-19 has hit different Ravens players in different ways. That's part of the challenge of this virus.

"I know a lot of guys had some symptoms," left guard Bradley Bozeman said. "I don't think anyone was super sick or anything like that. I've been keeping up with them."

Snead doesn't seem to be experiencing anything major.

However, defensive lineman Calais Campbell called the virus "brutal."

Wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown is close friends with Jackson – the NFL's most high-profile player to land on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Brown said Jackson is "in good spirits" and that he told his teammates to "go out there and try to win this game."

At the same time, Brown admitted that the uncertainties of the week were tough, and that there was more on his mind.

"For the most part, you're just trying to stay safe yourself," Brown said. "And for your teammates who contract something like that – keeping them in good spirits and take it day-by-day."

The Ravens aren't out of the woods yet. None of the 17 players returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, and Harbaugh indicated that players won't necessarily immediately step on the field as soon as they are eligible to do so under the league's protocol.

"Those are medical decisions in the end, not coaching decisions," Harbaugh said. "So, when the doctors clear them to practice, that's when we'll have them."

Until then, remember that players are recovering from something much different than a twisted ankle.

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