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SoFi Stadium construction ongoing in L.A. within ‘Safe’ guidelines

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Construction for SoFi Stadium, the future home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, is ongoing amid the statewide “Safe at Home” orders in California.

The directives put in place at the city and state levels last week allowed for the continuation of commercial construction, though it’s a fluid situation.

There remains the possibility that fewer exceptions to the stay-at-home orders are granted in response to the growing pandemic, which could postpone the Inglewood project and the renovation of Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, construction for which also continues.

“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to save lives,” Alex Comisar, a spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, said Wednesday. “We’ll continue to take direction from public health experts from the county and the [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] to determine what policies need to be put into place. With any activity that’s going on, we expect folks to take into account proper social distancing.”

In a statement released Friday, representatives for SoFi Stadium said construction “continues moving forward with an increased emphasis on already existing elevated health and safety protocols.”

SoFi Stadium, a revolutionary indoor-outdoor venue that will sit at the center of a 298-acre development, was deemed 85-percent complete around late January and is still expected to open with Taylor Swift concerts July 25 and 26. All non-essential employees are working from home, while job-site personnel are working with their general contractors to increase health and safety protocols, according to stadium representatives.

In a conversation posted to YouTube by the Dodgers on Tuesday, team president Stan Kasten said construction workers at Dodger Stadium are “fully compliant with all of the regulations of the county, city and state, as well as the CDC and [World Health Organization]. All of those things are super important to all of us. But consistent with all of that guidance, the work is continuing.”

The Dodgers are undertaking a $100 million renovation that will include a two-acre center-field plaza, upgraded outfield pavilions, a new sound system and a series of elevators and escalators that will provide a 360-degree connection around the park’s perimeter. Field-facing renovations are complete, Kasten said. In recent days, construction has slowed and fewer workers have been onsite at times, a function of both the season being delayed and nationwide protocols to combat coronavirus.

SoFi Stadium is set to host the Rams and Chargers over the final five months of the 2020 calendar year, then stage the Super Bowl in February of 2022. But stricter restrictions by the state of California, L.A. County or the city of Inglewood could shut down construction and force both teams to scramble for temporary homes for the fall. The project had already been delayed a year due to heavy rainfall in early 2017.

On March 17, a day after the L.A. County health officer prohibited gatherings of 50 or more people, the State Building and Construction Trade Council of California sent a memo to its affiliates providing safety measures that included adding sanitary facilities, bringing food from home, maintaining separation of at least six feet and performing deep cleanings on jobsites. The memo stated: “If these guidelines cannot be met and a project is in tight quarters, consideration should be given to shutting the construction project down until safer conditions exist.”

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When will the 2020 NFL season start? Answering the biggest questions, 100 days out

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Exactly 100 days remain before the scheduled start of the NFL season. If the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs actually kick off Sept. 10 at Arrowhead Stadium, they will produce one of the most significant moments in league history.

None of this country’s major professional leagues has managed to resume play since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The NFL and NFL Players Association have more time and less urgency than their cross-sport counterparts, but the issues — testing, safety protocols, payroll adjustments and fan policies among them — are no less difficult to resolve.

The NFL has been pledging an on-time start to the season for months, even while working on multiple contingency plans behind the scenes, a number of which were built into the regular-season schedule. One could push the Super Bowl to the end of February.

“As a league, and in partnership with the players’ association, we will continue to prepare and to adjust where necessary,” commissioner Roger Goodell said during a recent media teleconference. “I think this offseason has looked a lot different than it has in the past. We are proud that our key activities, such as free agency, the league year, the offseason programs and of course the draft, demonstrated that we can operate in new and innovative ways, so we are prepared for the 2020 season.”

If the NFL season is truly to start Sept. 10, the league has a long agenda list for the next 100 days. Let’s take a closer look, both on and off the field.

What is the status of team facilities?

The facilities began reopening on May 19 as state and local guidelines have relaxed. The first phase limited teams to bringing back no more than 50% of its non-field employees, for a total of up to 75 people in the building at any time. Coaches and players, other than those receiving medical treatment, were not part of that group.

The second phase began this week, as the league anticipated all facilities would reopen at some capacity. In a memo to teams, Goodell said last week that he anticipated allowing coaches to return by Friday. There is hope — but no plan yet — for the return of players before the NFL offseason ends June 26.

So what does that mean for teams’ offseason programs?

The programs will remain virtual through at least June 12, at which point the league and the union will reevaluate national conditions.

That leaves a two-week window, from June 15 to 26, when the NFL could potentially allow players to return for on-field workouts. For scheduling purposes, teams have saved the one mandatory event — a three-day minicamp — for potential use in that time frame. But there is no guarantee that the NFL will be ready to utilize that time. And even if teams receive that authorization, it’s possible that some will opt against a scramble to bring players from all over the country into the facility for such a short period.

“We’ve got to get this right,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. “We’re coming out of phase one, going into phase two, and we have to assure the general public and our players that our protocol and procedures [work]. We can’t miss. We just can’t fail. So rather than saying, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this,’ we have time. We have to be right. We are really taking a responsible approach on a daily basis. It’s changing daily.”

What is the significance of June 26? Could the offseason be extended to get more virtual work in?

By agreement with the players’ association, via the collective bargaining agreement, the league limits both the amount and period of time that players can participate in offseason team workouts. This year, the latest day that teams can host player workouts is June 26, allowing for a monthlong quiet period before training camps open.

We’ve learned this year not to rule out unusual or unprecedented events, but an extension beyond June 26 would seem unlikely and almost certainly would be tied to an acknowledgement that the start of training camps would be pushed back.

So will training camps be pushed back?

That’s impossible to predict right now. We don’t even know how the offseason program will end! All teams have been instructed to plan an on-time start to camps in late July, but its ultimate timing — and that of everything that follows — is largely dependent on three key factors:

  • The NFL’s success in conceiving and implementing a health and safety protocol that minimizes the chances of infection and ensures quick action to prevent spread

  • Agreement from the players, via the NFLPA, on that protocol and on any potential economic concessions

  • Acquiescence from state and local governments in the localities that house NFL stadiums

What will the NFL’s health and safety protocols look like?

Most of it remains in development, and part of it will be adjusted in reaction to trial and error from other leagues. We’ve gotten a few glimpses, including efforts to design a helmet visor that could limit the flow of virus through airborne particles.

Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, has made clear that the league should expect some personnel to be infected and said: “Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and prevent spread to any other participants.”

Sills also said that “certain important steps” in testing and testing availability must happen before the NFL has large-scale events. In other words, production and availability of test kits must increase to the point where the league can test all of its participants regularly and reliably without limiting the supply for the rest of the public.

“When we and the players’ association feel that we are at a point of satisfaction with that science, then we’ll be ready to move forward,” Sills said.

Once everyone is comfortable on the science, the NFL and NFLPA will need to address a series of other important aspects of their coronavirus policy. While physical distancing is not possible during games, will practices be reorganized to limit proximity? Will players and coaches be quarantined when not at the team facility? Will rosters or practice squads be expanded to ensure a full complement of healthy players? What about players with underlying conditions, those in high-risk groups and those who have other personal reasons to stay away from the field?

Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack, the treasurer of the NFLPA, told reporters he is more concerned about players getting infected while away from the team facility or stadiums.

“I think it comes down to how can you control when people go home,” Mack said. “What they do, what the people at their home are doing. It’s just the whole spiderweb effect of contamination that’s hard to wrap your head around and kind of figure out. I guess the fear of the unknown, to me, concerns me.”

In addition to the health of players, the NFL also must take into account the rest of its on-field personnel, from coaches to athletic trainers to game officials. The NFL has three head coaches over the age of 65 and a total of six who are at least 60 years old. And the average age of the league’s game officials is 52, according to NFL Referees Association executive director Scott Green.

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Domonique Foxworth and Tim Hasselbeck break down whether NFL players will want to come back and play amid the pandemic.

Let’s back up: What did you mean earlier by potential economic concessions?

It’s messy, and no one wants to hear about it amid record unemployment numbers around the country. But the experiences of the NBA and Major League Baseball, in particular, show us that the NFL’s return to play is dependent on cooperation between owners and players on issues they don’t always agree on.

Owners already have instituted some pay reductions and furloughs among off-field staffers. What will happen if they ask players to also take pay reductions outside of their collective bargaining agreement?

The league’s salary cap addresses the question from a philosophical standpoint. Players would share in the impact of lower revenues in 2020 via a smaller salary cap in 2021. Would owners seek additional concessions? We would be fools to rule out the possibility.

Regardless, training camps won’t open on time, and the season won’t kick off Sept. 10, without players’ full cooperation.

Is there really a chance for fans to attend 2020 games?

Not every state has addressed whether it will allow professional sports this summer or fall — or whether fans would be allowed to gather in significant numbers. But contingency planning includes the possibility of admitting a limited number of fans per game.

During an appearance last month on CNBC, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said: “I think there definitely will be a football season this year. [The] real question is, will there be fans in the stadium? Right now — today — we’re planning to have fans in the stadium.”

The Dolphins recently unveiled plans to limit crowds to as low as 15,000 people at Hard Rock Stadium, allowing them to maintain physical distancing within the 65,000-seat facility. Would the NFL allow some teams to admit fans if others are prevented by state or local regulations? The league hasn’t yet said.

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Cameron Wolfe reports on the Dolphins’ mock-up plans to host fans at their stadium during the 2020 NFL season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What about the rest of the NFL’s offseason schedule?

Even after the end of the offseason program, teams can continue to work through existing individual contract situations, including signing their rookie classes.

July 15 remains the deadline for signing franchise players to long-term contracts. Otherwise, they must play the season under a one-year deal. In this unusual offseason, none of the 14 players tagged has signed new deals, a list that includes Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry.

Isn’t the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction usually in the summer?

Yes. At the moment it remains on the schedule. The annual Hall of Fame Game would be played Aug. 6, and the Class of 2020 would be inducted Aug. 8. But David Baker, the Hall’s president and CEO, told USA Today that he is considering multiple contingencies, including pushing the ceremony to the spring or combining it with the 2021 induction.

What plans are being made by the NFL for game officials?

In most years, the NFL officiating department’s annual July clinic would be especially busy. The department has new leadership that includes former coach Perry Fewell, now the senior vice president of officiating administration, and retired referee Walt Anderson, now senior vice president of training and development.

The clinic is likely to be held via video conference, according to Green. The NFLRA also is discussing contingencies for the season, such as whether it would make sense for officials to be assigned to games based on their home city to minimize air travel.

Here’s another random issue to consider in the coronavirus era: Could whistles accelerate the spread of the virus? And if officials wear masks during games, how would they blow a whistle?

So when will we start getting clarity on all of this?

The NFL has followed a simple rule throughout the coronavirus pandemic: Maintain original schedules until they are no longer viable. So there is no reason to expect the NFL to make any imminent announcements about training camp or the season. For the most part, it has implemented its virtual offseason program in two-week increments. That’s a good working understanding for how the rest of the summer could go.

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Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti pledges $1M to social justice reform

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on Monday pledged $1 million for social justice reform in the Baltimore area, saying he is “shaken by the acts of racism that continue to overwhelm our society.”

A committee of current and former Ravens players will determine which programs will directly benefit from the contribution.

This donation, which was made jointly by the Ravens and the Steve and Renee Bisciotti Foundation, comes amid protests in Minneapolis and around the country over the death of George Floyd.

“There is nothing I can say to ease the pain felt by African-American communities across our country. No words will repair the damage that has been done,” Bisciotti said in a statement. “Like many people, I am sickened, disheartened and shaken by the acts of racism that continue to overwhelm our society. The most recent killing, involving George Floyd, is yet another tragic example of the discrimination that African-Americans face each day.”

Floyd, a black man, died last week in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin was fired Tuesday and charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers were also fired but have not been charged.

Several former and current Ravens players, including Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, have expressed grief and outrage on social media over the past week.

“Now, more than ever, we must all strengthen our pursuit of positive change, as we stand with peaceful protestors around the country,” Bisciotti said. “We must all seek to understand by listening better and learning more. We must all discover new ways to unite. We must all work to break the cycle of systematic racial injustice.”

Bisciotti added, “Our players have been — and will continue to be — at the forefront of this change. We believe in their commitment to furthering social justice and invoking meaningful change. We stand side by side with them, in full support.”

This is the latest of many contributions that the Ravens have made to social justice reform over the years since Baltimore had riots in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray.

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Colin Kaepernick compatriot Brandon Marshall — 2016 action ringing true

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Former Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, a college teammate and longtime friend of Colin Kaepernick who kneeled for the “The Star-Spangled Banner” before eight games in the 2016 season to protest excessive use of force by police, hopes people are now more ready for what he and Kapernick’s message was almost four years ago.

“Back then we were called rogues, people said that we didn’t deserve jobs, but this is what we were talking about then,” Marshall said Monday. “I think people are looking at (Kaepernick) now like, OK, maybe he knew. People didn’t want to hear the message after ‘oh they were kneeling’ they didn’t want that message, weren’t ready for it, didn’t listen.

“I hope, and I look at it, I hope people are ready for the message, I really hope they’re ready for change.”

Marshall said he has spoken to Kaepernick in recent days in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed across the country.

“We talked some about what’s happened – and this is why he started the Know Your Rights foundation – and I asked him if he needed me to do anything, or what I could do to help,” Marshall said. “He said right now, at the moment, he’s concentrating on legal assistance for the protesters, but we’ll talk more moving forward.”

Marshall, who played six seasons for the Broncos including in the team’s Super Bowl 50 win, lost several endorsements after he kneeled in pregame during the 2016 season, but he also met with Denver Police officials as well in the weeks that followed about the department’s use of force policies.

He said Monday “at times you do get tired, weary, of it happening over and over again,” but that he’s still hopeful in what he has seen in protests in Las Vegas, where he is now, and what he has seen across the county.

“That’s what brings change, people coming together, when it’s a people thing, not just a black and brown thing,” Marshall said. “You see people taking to the streets, it’s a mixed crowd, it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. That is what it takes for change, everybody has to care about it, back then not everybody cared about it.

“We need everybody to care about this, not to see it as just a black or brown problem,” Marshall added. “When people see this as a people problem, and not a black person’s problem or a person of color’s problem, then we can have real change. I look at all of the faces in the real, peaceful protests and I see maybe we’re ready to listen now, maybe we’re ready to see it as a people problem and that real, lasting, effective change can happen.”

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